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Transcript of McCain interview

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

This is a transcript of Arizona Sen. John's McCain's interview Tuesday (July 8, 2008) with Trib editors and reporters.

McCain: ... we've been talking about the economy a lot. And I am convinced, and by the way we have five Nobel Laureates and 200, 300 economists who think that we have a viable proposal that has to do with job creation, that has to do with keeping taxes low, with health -- affordable and available health care, and to making sure that our economy can recover in a robust fashion. Spending in my view is the major contributor to a lot of the economic difficulties we have today. We have allowed spending to get completely out of control. The size of spending has increased by some 40 percent, the greatest increase in "discretionary spending." The greatest increase in size of government since the Great Society. And we therefore ran up deficits and even though revenue increased as a result of tax cuts, it had no -- could not keep up with the spending increases. The symbolic aspect of this of course and very important aspect of it is the corruption of out of control spending. I noticed there is a poll today that showed the approval rating for the first time ever in single digits, approval rating of Congress. I have not met the 9 percent lately that approve of Congress, so we are gridlocked, we are -- the housing bill up before the United States Senate, with the housing problem that we have today, which by the way I have some problems with that housing bill, but it's better than doing nothing, and the home ownership bill.

... two things Congress never misses, that's a pay raise and recesses, no matter what the situation is. So I'll be glad to talk to you about the economy and the economy and the economy, and home ownership and lower taxes and if you want somebody to raise taxes, I'm not your guy. I'm not your candidate. And I believe that raising taxes at this particular time in history could do very great damage.

Finally, I'd just like to say a word about -- I'll just stop there with saying we've got to restrain spending, we've got to restrain the growth of government, we have to keep taxes low and we can restore this economy and we can have a strong economy again. And a lot of it has to do with green technologies and achieving oil independence. We are watching probably the greatest transfer of wealth perhaps in history from the United States of America to the Middle East and other oil producing countries, $(400) or $500 billion. That has a dramatic and significant impact on our economy, on our foreign debts, on the whole -- everything that affects Americans. Lowest-income Americans are suffering the worst as a result of an increase in the cost of a barrel of oil because they drive the oldest cars and they usually have to drive the furthest. So it's a national security issue, it's an environmental issue, and it's an economic issue. And we have to be on the path to independence of imported oil, and I'll be glad to talk with you about how we do that with green technologies, with automobiles that will go 100 or 200 miles on a battery, on flex fuels, on hydrogen, on all of the innovation and technology that American can be motivated to move forward on. And it has to be a national mission that we have to embark on. With that I'd like to answer or any questions or comments you have.

Trib: How do we change the culture of energy dependence• How do we get people to buy into all these things that they are -- you know, it's a total culture change to talk about hydrogen, to talk about electric cars, to talk about all those things. How do you do it?

McCain: Well, a change to a large degree is taking place right now, people have stopped buying SUVs, people have stopped doing a lot of the things that consume energy. We are seeing this in places as diverse as Las Vegas where Americans decide they can't afford a plane ticket to go there. Most -- a lot of experts thought the economy of Las Vegas was immune to any economic ups and downs -- now, we are seeing that. We are seeing it at Disney World, we are seeing it across America in consumer spending. When you are paying $4 I was in Santa Barbara, California, and they are paying $5 for a gallon of gas, and you don't take that extra trip to the store, you don't buy the extra whatever it is, and it is affecting us. And it is affecting Americans' behavior. And we saw some of this in the '70s during the oil embargo. Some of us around here remember those days. And we are certainly seeing it in the marketplace as far as the sale of high energy consumption products. I think ... the culture is being changed by the impact in the pocketbook, but second of all we have to call Americans to the mission. It's ... something that Americans will respond to. When Jack Kennedy said we would go to the moon, we did it in less time than he predicted. And so ... I'm confident that unfortunately the economic circumstances are dictating it, but also Americans I think are ready, especially from the national security side.

Trib: Senator, you talked a lot about clean coal and using coal, and the other day Sen. Reid made a comment that coal was dirty and made us sick, and I wonder if you think you see that kind of attitude prevalent within the Senate, or what kind of comment do you have with something like that?

McCain: Well, there's no doubt that coal is a large emitter of what we don't like. But the fact is that we are developing clean coal technology, and America sits on the world's largest supply of coal, larger than Saudi Arabia's supply of oil. And so it's a matter of developing the technology. The technology is being developed. It's the cost of the technology and as every barrel of oil gets more and more expensive, then that gap narrows. Plus the advances, dramatic advances that are being made in clean coal technology. And that's why ... I've said we'll spend $2 billion a year on research and development from the federal government for pure research and development to spur the progress of clean coal technology. But look, I see this all the time: 'We can't go nuclear power because we can't store it and we can't reprocess it. We can't do coal because it's dirty.' We can't do this because there's a mindset in Washington, D.C. that we can't do anything. Well, we can. We can do these things. And we've ... overcome greater obstacles in the past. But that rhetoric ... is directly related to the 9 percent approval rating. Don't you think Americans would like to hear, 'Hey, we're sitting on the world's largest supply of energy in coal reserves and we are going to develop the technology that will ... make it clean and Americans will be able to have their energy needs supplied, which will increase by 20 percent in the next 10 years, I believe. ... But the demand for energy is going to increase dramatically in the future and we're going to have to supply it.

Trib: Senator, in an effort to curtail our dependence on oil, how much of a commitment will your administration make to mass transit and high speed rail?

McCain: Well, I will obviously commit to doing whatever is necessary to spur that, but I'd also like to point out to you, Brad, that one of the reasons why we haven't done more is because a lot of Americans don't want to use it. Now again, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the use of mass transit because of ... the reasons we just discussed. There's another aspect of this, too, very quickly, and that is that it has to do with passenger per mile. In other words, maglev and other new technologies have reduced that cost per passenger per mile. But I also have got to look you in the eye and tell you that there are Amtrak routes that will never be viable, OK• And we have a lot of work to do on the infrastructure, the tunnels, etc. But to subsidize a route that goes from Miami to Los Angeles is at 200 and some dollars per passenger, that's not what we want to do. That's not the answer. In my hometown of Phoenix, right now we are constructing mass transit. I believe that you will see in many cities and interconnecting cities, particularly in high population areas, you will see mass transit become a reality. They are talking about Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston. They are talking about all across the West Coast, you know, which once upon a time there was more of that. But also East Coast and connecting many of your hubs and all that. So all I can say is that I will commit to it, but a lot of it is going to have to be dictated by again the demand for that kind of transportation.

Trib: Senator, how are you going to fix Social Security• What's your plan• We've heard over and over the system is headed toward ...

McCain: Yeah, it is, it's broken and we ...

Trib: What specifically can you do?

McCain: I think you have to do two things. One, do a better job than has been done in the past of convincing people that it's broken. I think you can do that with one chart that shows how much money is going out and how much is coming in, and when there's more going out than coming in and when there's no money left. And so you have to get that sense of urgency to the American people. And the second thing, you've got to say, 'Look, everything is on the table, let's sit down at the table.' That's what Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did in 1983. They sat down, they put everything on the table. A lot of people didn't like the solution they came up with, but when the liberal Democrat from Massachusetts and the conservative president from California said this is the fix for Social Security, it went through. So you've got to put everything on the table. And for me to stand here and say we've got to have this, this and this, all that does is set things up for a confrontation. What I'm saying is I'll sit down at a table with Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, and we'll sit down and we'll work it out, and we'll walk out and I'll give them all the credit. I'll give them all the credit because we've got to fix it. But first -- so that's my plan for fixing it.

Trib: Well, if private retirement accounts are part of the mix, we saw the opposition to that already in 2005. So could that still be part of the mix?

McCain: Everything has got to be on the table. And let me just say again, I believe that young people ought to be able to invest money in accounts with their names on it. And that means young people voluntarily. Now it got all hung up the last time with all kinds of allegations and that became the focus of the debate, rather than the crisis that Social Security is in. So I'm saying everything is on the table. I favor the ability of young Americans to put money into, on a voluntary basis, into an account with their name on it. That's what I favor. Other people favor different things. You've got to sit down at the table and you've got to hammer it out.

Trib: Do you favor raising the cap?

McCain: Pardon me?

Trib: Do you favor raising the cap?

McCain: No, and I think by doing so, as Sen. Obama wants to do, you are obviously putting a very, very big increased tax on ... middle income Americans who filing jointly and in other ways will be paying a very big increase.

Trib: Senator, do Americans have a constitutional right to privacy?

McCain: Sure. Sure they do.

Trib: Does that -- how does that factor in, do you think, with your U.S. Supreme Court choices, and say Roe v. Wade?

McCain: I believe the most fundamental statement ever made that guides my life is that all of us are created equal and endowed (with) certain inalienable rights, among these are life ... liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And I believe that life applies to the unborn as well as the born. And I believe that's a fundamental pillar of my belief and what I think America is all about, so I will continue to advocate for the rights of the unborn.

Trib: But the decision Roe v. Wade was based on this right to privacy, it's ...

McCain: I didn't agree with Roe v. Wade. I didn't agree with the latest decision concerning the banning of the death penalty for a person who rapes a child. ... It's what the Supreme Court has decided, but I don't agree with them.

Trib: Senator, do platforms matter anymore• And if the party adopts a platform that comes out against the guest worker program, would you abide by that platform?

McCain: I can't get into hypotheticals as to what, you know, they would do or not do, but ... certainly I believe in a party platform. And I believe that the majority of Republicans believe that a guest worker program that has ... tamper-proof biometric documents and an ... electronic employer verification system, I think ... that a lot of Republicans would agree with such a proposal as long as it's comprehensive, that we secure our borders and we have a temporary worker program and address the issue of the 12 million people who are here illegally. I think healthy disagreement ... within a party is good ... as long we share common principles and values.

Trib: Would you feel bound by the platform if some of these revisions directly ...

McCain: I respect the platform of the party. I may not agree with every single aspect of it, ... but those discussions and deliberations within the party should be well known, well ventilated and well discussed. But obviously I run on the principles and philosophies underlying my party platform, whether I will agree with every crossed "t" or dotted "i" or not is something. But again, I think some disagreement in our party is healthy. We don't have to agree on everything. In fact, things are pretty boring as they are if we agreed on every single thing... . But I certainly support the values and principles of the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

Trib: Senator, on the transportation issue again, more than half of the funding for Pennsylvania's transportation law that's in effect right now comes from tolling Interstate 80, but it needs FHA approval. Separately, the governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, wants to privatize the Pennsylvania Turnpike. How would your administration handle tolling of interstates and would you encourage or discourage privatizing major roads like the turnpike?

McCain: I'm a federalist, and the -- the essence of federalism is the state -- first the individual and then the states are responsible, and then finally the federal government has the authority to make these kinds of decisions. I will respect what the governor, the Legislature and the people of Pennsylvania decide. I will respect that. And if I had my way, you would take the majority of the gas tax money and keep it in the state of Pennsylvania so that the Legislature, the governor, the mayors, the city councils, the county supervisors, the state and local governments could decide to do with that money, rather than send it to Washington, wash it through the Appropriations Committee, spend $233 million on a bridge to an island in Alaska with 50 people on it, and all the other boondoggle pork barrel projects that have given Washington a bad name. ... Then listen, Duke Cunningham had a list of projects and a list of money he got for those projects. He's now residing in federal prison. So don't think that this earmarking, the worst example of which is probably in the highway bills and the transportation bills, isn't a corrupting influence. And by the way, my State of Arizona, ... we get back 86 cents for every dollar we send to Washington. That's not right, that's not right. The State of Alaska gets what $10, or I've forgotten now, something really, you know, beyond. Most people don't believe it when you tell them. So I guess my point is I think those decisions as to what to do with the transportation system should reside within the states, and of course it has to be coordinated with the federal government because we've got a national highways system. But I'd like to see most of those decisions handled by the governors, the legislatures, the mayors, the city councils and the county people. By the way, I'm sorry to bore you with this, the congressman from Alaska, this is just fact. They earmarked some money for a county in Florida, I'm pretty sure it was Orange County, Florida. The county supervisor said we don't want to spend it on that project, it has some environmental concerns. And then the congressman said you'd better spend it on that or you won't get any more money. ... I go back to the 9 percent and I go back to the standing of the Republican Party. You can't do those kinds of things.

Trib: Senator, I just spent the last several months in Pakistan and Afghanistan with the U.S. troops along the border. I heard repeatedly, I was told there are hundreds if not thousands of insurgents coming across that border and attacking the U.S., Afghan and NATO troops. How would you respond to that• What is your solution to that problem?

McCain: It's interesting you mention that. I met the NATO ambassador from Pakistan to the United States this morning, a very interesting person who also spent time in prison himself for his political stance. The situation in Afghanistan is very, very tough today, and it will remain tough for quite a period of time. And one of the major areas of concern is generated by what goes on in Pakistan. Afghanistan, of course, Karzai is not effective as we want him to be. There's corruption, there's a number of issues concerning Afghanistan. But in Pakistan, as we know, Faustian bargains have been entered into with groups along the Pakistan, Afghan border, Waziristan, etc. And it has now become a safe haven for Taliban and others. So this is going to be a very difficult situation, and I don't have to tell you again, because you have been there most recently, the instance of violence attacks, etc., continue to go up, particularly in those areas. I think there's a whole lot of things that need to be done. We can talk about the NATO command structure, the relationships between the different militaries and we can talk about a number of things, but a lot of it is going to depend on our relationship with Pakistan. And they haven't sorted that out yet, as you know. What's going to happen with Musharraf, the reappointment of the judges... . And as much as I respect the country of Pakistan, a lot of times the parties are identified with individuals rather than anything else. I'm insulting your intelligence by reminding you of all these things. I think it's going to require a lot of diplomacy, it's going to require a lot of hard work, it's going to require a lot of ideological work and it's going to require a lot of economic diplomatic intelligence and others, including human intelligence. So I guess my answer to you is the reports you are getting are correct, and we're going to have to try as well as we can to work as closely as we can (with) the Pakistani government. We have to not only appeal to their better angels of their nature, but we also have to appeal to them to recognize that their national security interests over time are at stake here. If the Taliban succeeds in Afghanistan, sooner or later it's going to have a significant -- a greater influence on the situation in Pakistan as well. I think, you know, sometimes things happen in history that change the whole course of history. I think the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was a tragic event not only from a personal standpoint but it threw everything into a -- a tumultuous situation which they still haven't sorted out, as you well know. And I'm sorry that's a long answer, but I didn't cover nearly all of the challenge we face in the Afghan, Pakistan situation. And I wonder, given the time you spent there, whether you disagree with that assessment, just out of curiosity.

Trib: Some have talked also about setting up, like, coordination between Afghanistan and Pakistan, having direct links between villages, you know things like that, along the border especially between the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan.

McCain: I think so, since the Taliban and others do not respect borders. I think if there is some good news, I think that there is a glimmer of improving relationship between Karzai and the Pakistanis. There was a personal animosity between Musharraf and Karzai, as you know, that also complicated it a bit. It's very, very tough.

Trib: Senator, with Iraqi leaders now calling for a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals ...

McCain: Actually the Iraqis are not. The Iraqis widely reported as short a time ago as a couple of weeks ago that there would be no status of forces agreement, and Maliki would say that, and it got headlines, and of course it turned out not to be true. I met recently with the ... foreign minister and the president, both of them share my views completely. Americans will withdraw. It will be dictated by events on the ground, by the success that we've made and that success has been significant. but it's still fragile. ... Al-Qaida and other Shiite militias, other former Bathists, those elements have been knocked back on their heels (but) they are not defeated. So ... despite what you may see or hear, the facts are that this will be dictated, and since we are succeeding we will be able to withdraw and it will be dictated by the facts on the ground. And they still agree that if you set an artificial date for withdrawal, the way that Sen. Obama wanted to do, then we will have a resurgence of the fighting and the various factions within Iraq, Iranian influence will increase and we still risk a wider war. The benefits of success are reduced Iranian influence, a functioning, not great, but functioning Iraqi government and military, and a stable U.S. ally in the region. The security arrangements will be worked out between two sovereign countries. So as I say, I just met with the president of Iraq and with the foreign minister and both of them, and I know that (Gen.) Petraeus and (Ambassador) Crocker are saying the same things, and Maliki will too. So let me point out to you again, Sen. Obama said the surge would not work, he opposed the surge, up until very recently he said that it completely failed. Now maybe that's because he hadn't been there in 900 days, maybe that's because he never asked for a single sit-down meeting with Gen. Petraeus. Never asked for one, nor received one. But Sen. Obama is now going to Iraq as he has announced and I'll be very interested in seeing what he has to say ... upon his return.

Trib: Senator, in the past you've labeled Iran an aggressive and radical foe of the U.S. and our regional allies. You had just mentioned Iran, but what would you do to limit their influence?

McCain: I would join with other nations and they are showing a strong willingness to do so, particular President Sarkozy and also Prime Minister Brown as well as Chancellor Merkel to impose meaningful, impactful sanctions on the Iranians, diplomatic, trade, economic and others. The Iranians despite their oil wells have a very weak economy, showing again tha, that governments matter. So I and the president had conversations with Sarkozy and our other European allies and I'm sure it will be a subject at the G-8 meetings. Now, we all know that Russia and China, particularly Russia, has blocked significant measures to be taken. And that's why I think we have to have this kind of league of democracies, as I called it, that can act in concert and not only address this issue but others like Darfur and many others that are unfortunately challenges to everything we stand for and believe in. So I think we can do that, but I also have to tell you at the end of the day none of us, none of us can allow a second Holocaust. None of us. And it's unfortunate that the president of Iran continues to voice his nation's stated policy as quote "wiping Israel off the map," or calling Israel a quote stinking corpse or those other things. So but I think there's a lot of measures we can take in concert with other countries that I think can beneficially affect Iranian behavior.

Trib: Senator, about Medicare, I know that there's a lot of concern too about the possibility that the program may go bankrupt within the next decade or so. I know that you've talked about perhaps balancing the budget and making some steps and arrangements and that sort of thing, and I wonder if those cuts are to be made at the expense of Medicare. And I also wonder if there is a Medicare, is there a future for Medicare in your presidency?

McCain: Yes. No, there will not be cuts. Yes, there will be Medicare in the future. It's obviously a safety net that we have an obligation as a government to our society. The problem with Medicare is the health care costs, the skyrocketing costs of health care, which then is reflected by increases in Medicare costs and every other health care cost in America. So we have to get health care under control as far as the costs are concerned. We have the highest-quality health care in the world in the United States of America. The problem is affordability and availability, and that's why we are going to have to try to keep government out of running health care in America, and we are going to have to make various reforms. Social Security, as we talked about at the beginning of our conversation, is a major, major challenge. It pales in comparison to Medicare as far as unfunded liability is concerned. I believe this is right, that David Walker, the former head of the Government Accountability Office, said the unfunded liability, i.e. debt of Social Security, is $6 trillion. I believe he also said that Medicare was around $40 trillion. It's a huge difference. Medicare is the elephant in the room and we are going to have to reform it.

Trib: I'm based in Cairo, Egypt, and there's a lot of anti-American sentiment in the region. I travel a lot around the region. What would you do to improve it• Or do you think it needs improving?

McCain: There are many things that I could do, but I think you know from where you are based that probably major -- one of the major -- let me say the major issue in many respects in that part of the world is the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And unfortunately from time to time people who are dictators of countries use the Israeli-Palestinian issue as a way to divert from the real problems with governing and the lack of progress in many areas. I would get personally engaged in the process. I would find the best qualified people I know to be permanently there. I would make sure that everybody knows that we expect an outcome and that people in the region expect an outcome, and that we will achieve a successful resolution of these very difficult issues. They may have to be done step by step, and it may have to be one thing after another. As you know, President Clinton tried at Camp David to have an all-encompassing settlement, and by the way I respect very much President Clinton's effort and his knowledge of this issue. He knows it in detail. But that didn't succeed. So we may have to do it one step at a time. And among many other issues, by the way being from the west I have to throw in as you know water, water. Water is going to be as precious as oil someday. Not only in the Middle East. So that's just one of the issues that's going to have to be resolved. But with the highest priority, I would be personally engaged and I would have the smartest and most respected people I know engaged in the process. And I do believe it affects the entire region.

Trib: What was the purpose of your recent trip to Colombia and did you accomplish what you hoped to accomplish?

McCain: Well, I'm happy to tell you that I orchestrated the rescue of those hostages. I thought it was important, I believe they are a valuable ally. They are very important in the hard struggle against the drug issue. I think that a free trade agreement that the speaker has pulled off the table is very important to send a signal in the hemisphere. I think that we are engaged in a common struggle against the drug cartels and that's one of the reasons why I went to Mexico as well. And I'm happy to tell you I think we've got a president in Mexico in the case of Calderon who really is committed. And I don't have to tell you the terrible things that are happening in border towns. I mean the unspeakable cruelty as these cartels try to do everything they can to maintain their control. And this Merida initiative that was just concluded with Mexico I think is maybe a signal change in our relationship and our combined efforts, and they've got a huge corruption problem, let's face it. Drugs corrupt, money corrupts, but I do believe that the Colombian government coming from nearly a failed state to where it is today is pretty remarkable progress and I wanted to show my appreciation. But also the challenge that continues to lie ahead of us. As far as Mexico, I think it's obvious, our nearest neighbor. I come from a border state, I think Canada and Mexico relations are very important with the United States and so I thought it was appropriate to do so.

But was it meant to highlight your expertise in foreign affairs?

McCain: No. I think it was meant to convey to them my understanding and my commitment to working together with them, conveyed to the American people that I am aware, appreciate, understand and am committed to the close relations between our two nearest neighbors to also show the American people that I am ready to serve. And I hope that I'll be able to do that in the days and weeks, the 119 days, who is counting, remaining between now and ...

Senator, two quick questions. Back to Iran for a second, Ahmadinejad today challenged you to a debate. Is that something you can put on your schedule?

McCain: Do you think that Sen. Obama will join us• I've been challenging him to town hall meetings.

Trib: I just wondered if that was going to be part of your schedule.

McCain: Well, you know, the problem with sitting down with someone like Ahmadinejad is you then give that individual legitimacy. Now when Nixon went to China, it was after every "t" was crossed and every "I" was dotted. Whenever we have sat down with leaders there is a predetermined outcome. If you sat down with Ahmadinejad today, all he would do is go through a rant, which would be anti-Israeli, anti-American, etc. And that would then somehow in his view anyway enhance his role in the world -- on the world stage. Now if Ahmadinejad said at the end of this meeting, this debate we are having I'm then going to declare that we will respect the right of the state of Israel to exist, I'll sit down with him tomorrow. OK• But there's a huge difference there. And there's not -- and by the way we have communications. Ambassador Crocker in Baghdad has met with the Iranian ambassador, there's plenty of ways to communicate nowadays, my dear friends. But you've got to be careful, legitimacy you give people who state that their policy is the extermination of one of their neighbors. You see what I mean• So yes, I only have one precondition to sit down with Ahmadinejad and that is at the end of the meeting he will say my country will recognize and take no steps to harm the state of Israel, which is a freely democratic, freely elected government and nation. And I'll respect its right to exist, and I'll negotiate with them. That's when I do that. But that's interesting, I didn't know he had -- he had issued that challenge.

Trib: It is out there for you. The other question is when you ran for president in 2000, although the Internet was around because it was invented by then, but YouTube, 24 hours news cycle, every word is parsed that you said was not part of the culture (of) running forpPresident. What is that like for you know• I mean everything that you say, everything that Obama says, your surrogates say ... <



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