McCain Addresses the Associated Press, Takes Questions
Monday, April 14, 2008; 10:49 AM
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here. I want to keep my remarks brief so that I can quickly get to your questions, comments or insults. Let me begin by offering a few thoughts about the press's role in political campaigns. Long ago in my career, I made a decision to be as accessible to the press as the press would prefer me to be, and, perhaps, even more than they would prefer. There have been days on the back of the bus when I couldn't help but notice the relief that spread among reporters when, after hours had passed, our conversation exhausted the day's questions of policy and politics and finally turned to ball scores, vacation plans, and the amusing eating and sleeping habits of my friend, Lindsey Graham. For those of you interested in what those habits might entail, Liz Sidoti, Libby Quaid and Dave Espo can fill you in.
Running campaigns under the frequent if not constant scrutiny of the press can be challenging. And there have been days when I wished you had been somewhere else when I made comments that were interpreted in ways I didn't intend and took on a longer life than I would have preferred. Occasionally, the penalties a candidate suffers by granting widespread access can reinforce a campaign's natural tendencies to avoid risk and closely control its message. There have been times when my enthusiasm in arguing a point and my glibness have had an effect that caused me to appreciate the qualities of tight message discipline and my staff to become distraught because I answered a question simply because I was asked. I confess also that on occasion, perhaps many occasions, I have felt reporters' questions, their redundancy and sometimes adversarial quality, were intended more at producing candidate fatigue and, consequently, mistakes than the enlightenment of your readers.
These aren't trivial worries, and they do tend to support arguments for a more careful approach to talking to you. I want to win this election as do my opponents, and Americans have always taken the view that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Thus, campaigns naturally look suspiciously at the more circuitous route to success that wends and sometimes loses its way through the obstacle course of the candidate's exchanges with the press. But I've become rather accustomed to it. And though my campaign certainly took a circuitous route to securing my party's nomination -- to put it charitably -- I don't intend to change that particular habit of a lifetime.
I believe in giving great access to the press for three reasons. First, I much prefer long back and forths, where reporters have multiple follow ups and I have an opportunity to explain my views in greater detail -- and, occasionally to correct any initial mistakes I might have made in communicating them -- than is allowed in the short exchanges and bright lights of the press avail. The dynamics of the avail, in my opinion, tend to produce more heat than light on your part and excessive caution on the candidate's part. Reporters have one, maybe two shots at me, and they want it to count, by which I mean they would like to catch me in a mistake, a discrepancy or a less than artful expression. And candidates tend to approach them with the primary intention of not saying anything beyond a single message or not saying anything newsworthy at all.
Second, I think reporters are better able to meet their first responsibility of ensuring an informed citizenry if they are allowed to press a candidate for more than a gotcha quote or a comment on whatever the cable driven news environment has decided is the process story of the day.
Last, and most importantly, the responsibility of an informed citizenry is as much my responsibility as it is yours. I don't believe in deceiving voters about my positions, my beliefs or how I would govern this country were I to have the extraordinary privilege of serving as President. I want voters to know and understand my positions. I intend to stand by them, to defend them and even, at times, to engage in spirited debate with voters about them. But I want them to know what and why I believe the things I believe. And I think the press wants voters to know that as well, even though, at times, my views can suffer from your translation of them, sometimes more through my fault than yours. That is why I prefer the townhall format to other forms of communication with the voters. And that is why I make myself regularly available to all of you. I will screw up sometimes, and, frankly, so will you. But on the whole, you, I and, most importantly, the American people are better served by the openness and accountability that direct, lengthy and frequent exchanges with the press produces. And I will take my chances with you and trust in the American people to get it right in the end.
In the spirit of that commitment to communicating my views fully and honestly to you, I want to address quickly an issue I know is important to you, the so-called "shield law" pending before Congress. I have had a hard time deciding whether to support or oppose it. To be very candid, but with no wish to offend you, I must confess there have been times when I worry that the press' interest in getting a scoop occasionally conflicts with other important priorities, even the first concern of every American -- the security of our nation. I take a very, very dim view of stories that disclose classified information that unnecessarily threatens or makes it more difficult to protect the physical security of Americans. I think that has happened before, rarely, but it has happened. I think the New York Times' decision to disclose surveillance programs to monitor the conversations of people who wish to do us harm came too close to crossing that line. And I understand completely why the government charged with defending our security would want to discourage that from happening and hold the people who disclosed that damaging information accountable for their action.
The shield law would give great license to you and your sources, with few restrictions, to do as you please no matter the stakes involved and without fear of personal consequences beyond the rebuke of your individual consciences. It is, frankly, a license to do harm, perhaps serious harm. But it also a license to do good; to disclose injustice and unlawfulness and inequities; and to encourage their swift correction. The First Amendment is based in that recognition, and I am, despite the criticism of campaign finance reform opponents, committed to that essential right of a free society. I know that the press that disclosed security secrets that should have remained so also revealed the disgrace of Abu Ghraib, a disgrace that made it much harder to protect the American people from harm. Thus, despite concerns I have about the legislation, I have narrowly decided to support it. I respect those of my colleagues who have decided not to; appreciate very much the concerns that have informed their position, and encourage further negotiations to address those concerns. But if the vote were held today, I would vote yes. By so doing, I and others, on behalf of the people we represent, are willing to invest in the press a very solemn trust that in the use of confidential sources you will not do more harm than good whether it comes to the security of the nation or the reputation of good people.
No profession always meets its responsibilities or always meets them perfectly. Certainly not mine, and not yours either. There will be times, I suspect, when I will wonder again if I should have supported this measure. But I trust in your integrity and patriotism that those occasions won't be so numerous that I will, in fact, deeply regret my decision. And I would hope that when you do something controversial or something that many people find wrong and harmful you would explain fully and honestly how and why you did it, and confess your mistakes, if you made them, in a more noticeable way than afforded by the small print on a corrections page. In truth, the workings of American newsrooms are some of the least transparent enterprises in the country, and it is easy to believe that the press has one set of standards for government, business, and other institutions, and entirely another for themselves. And if you don't mind a little constructive criticism from someone who respects you, I think that is an impression the press should work on correcting.
Now, before I take your questions, I would like to respond briefly to the comments one of my opponents made the other day about the psychology and political mindset of Americans living in small towns and other areas that have experienced the loss of industrial jobs.
During the Great Depression, with many millions of Americans out of work and the country suffering the worst economic crisis in our history, there rose from small towns, rural communities, inner cities, a generation of Americans who fought to save the world from despotism and mass murder, and came home to build the wealthiest, strongest and most generous nation on earth. They were not born with the advantages others in our country enjoyed. They suffered the worst during the Depression. But it had not shaken their faith in and fidelity to America and its founding political ideals. Nor had it destroyed their confidence that America and their own lives could be made better. Nor did they turn to their religious faith and cultural traditions out of resentment and a feeling of powerlessness to affect the course of government or pursue prosperity. On the contrary, their faith had given generations of their families purpose and meaning, as it does today. And their appreciation of traditions like hunting was based in nothing other than their contribution to the enjoyment of life.
In my other profession and the war I served in, the country relied overwhelmingly on Americans from these same communities to defend us. As Tocqueville discovered when he traveled America two hundred years ago, they are the heart and soul of this country, the foundation of our strength and the primary authors of its essential goodness. They are our inspiration, and I look to them for guidance and strength. No matter their personal circumstances, they believed in this country. They revered its past, but most importantly they believed in its future greatness, a greatness they themselves would create. They never forgot who they were, where they came from, and what is possible in America, a country founded on an idea and not on class, ethnic or sectarian identity. And America must not and will not forget them.
Next week, I'll begin a tour of places in America that do not frequently see a candidate for President. They are places far removed from the prosperity that is enjoyed elsewhere in America. I want to tell people living there that there must not be any forgotten parts of America; any forgotten Americans. Hope in America is not based in delusion, but in the faith that everything is possible in America. The time for pandering and false promises is over. It is time for action. It is time for change, but the right kind of change; change that trusts in the strength of free people and free markets; change that doesn't return to policies that empower government to make our choices for us, but that works to ensure that we have choices to make for ourselves. For we have always trusted Americans to build from the choices they make for themselves, a safer, stronger and more prosperous country than the one they inherited.
QUESTION: Well, Senator, thank you very much for joining us today.
MCCAIN: Thank you. QUESTION: And as you mentioned, Ron, myself, a couple other A.P. reporters, we spend quite a bit of time with you on the back of the "Straight Talk Express," asking you questions. And what we've decided to do today was invite everyone else along on the ride. We even brought you your favorite...
MCCAIN: Oh, my god. Let's see if we got the right kind. I'm very -- oh, yes, with sprinkles.
QUESTION: Dunkin' Donuts with sprinkles.
MCCAIN: With sprinkles.
This is our latest health program.
QUESTION: A little coffee with a little cream and a little sugar.
MCCAIN: There you go.
QUESTION: I think we're set for the hard questions.
MCCAIN: OK. There we go.
QUESTION: We wanted to start today with the shield law. You said you narrowly support the shield law.
QUESTION: Should the administration or a judge decide whether a confidential source be protected?
MCCAIN: I think we should have legislation that outlines that for a federal judge, in other words, establishes the clear parameters, which I think this law does to a significant degree.
There's obviously in this law a provision for, quote, "national security," but it is a very focused provision of it.
So I would -- I think the reason why I'm supporting this legislation, is there a need for legislation or rather just hand it over to the courts to make -- arrange, make a decision that's perhaps based not on specific enough guidelines from the legislative branch?
QUESTION: Who makes the ultimate decision, the executive branch or the judicial branch on whether or not a confidential source should be protected? MCCAIN: Ron, I think that if you give specific guidance, as I interpret this legislation, to the judges, to the judiciary, then it narrows obviously the range of options that they could exercise.
But when any interest goes to court, it's in the hands of the judiciary, but the judiciary -- and this is why judicial appointments are so important -- in my view, should strictly interpret laws made by the Congress and along with strictly interpreting -- based on a strict interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.
So, right now, I think a federal judge has very, very wide latitude in making that decision. I think this gives them probably the guidance that most judges would like to have, to be honest with you. I think that most members of the bench would like to have specific guidelines. And I think, in the shield law, they've got some pretty specific guidelines.
QUESTION: Let me follow up -- I'm sorry.
QUESTION: What do you disagree with, specifically?
MCCAIN: It's not that I disagree with. It's what I worry about, OK? What I worry about is that there may be occasions where national security is compromised thereby inhibiting our ability to address this radical Islamic extremist movement that we are going to be facing for the rest of this century.
Now, why do I worry so much about it? Because radical Islam has been able to make use of modern means of communication. There's nobody in this room that doesn't understand that modern communications is changing the way information is gained, shared and rapidly travels around the globe.
Osama bin Laden is able routinely to get out a message from some obscure place in Afghanistan or Pakistan that reaches billions of people, which he motivates, instructs and recruits people to his evil cause.
Twenty years ago, we all had hard lines. We all knew exactly where the phone lines went. We all knew where the communication was, et cetera. Now we have a vast array of ways of communicating.
It's not just good, honest, decent citizens that enjoy that incredible technological advances; it's also bad people. So this complicates, I think, our national security challenges.
And the reason why I specifically mention it is because a lot of this back-and-forth in the court is directly related to how we monitor the communications of organizations, and groups of people, and individuals who want to do bad things.
QUESTION: You made a vague reference in your speech to Senator Obama's comments recently about working-class voters. Do you think the senator is an elitist?
MCCAIN: Oh, I don't know. I think those comments are elitist. I think that anybody who disparages people who are hard-working, honest, dedicated people, who have cherished the Second Amendment, and the right to hunt, and the right to observe that, and their values, and their culture that they value, and that they've grown up with, and sometimes in the case of generations, and saying that's because they are unhappy with their economic conditions?
I think that's a fundamental contradiction of what I believe America is all about, that I tried to describe in my remarks.
These are the people that produced a generation that made the world safe for democracy. These are the people that, today, their sons and daughters are in harm's way, defending this nation.
These are the people that have fundamental cultural, spiritual, and other values that, in my view, have very little to do with their economic condition, but has everything to do what Tocqueville said America was all about 200 years ago and is the same today.
QUESTION: If those remarks were elitist, which you say they are, does that make him an elitist?
MCCAIN: I don't know, because I don't know him very well. I don't know Senator Obama very well. I can only look at his remarks -- and I've seen them now several times -- and say that those are certainly not the vision that I have of America and its strength and its greatness and what its fundamental values and beliefs are.
QUESTION: You served with him for a couple of years. Did you ever see elitist behavior from him?
MCCAIN: I know that positions on many of the issues that he has taken, I don't know if you would call it elitist, but certainly are fundamentally different than mine.
I mean, I am less government, less regulation, lower taxes, et cetera, et cetera, ranging from national security to domestic issues. We are very different. That's why the American people will have the opportunity with either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama to see some stark contrasts in our vision for the future of America.
And I look forward to that debate. I look forward to having that discussion all across America. I wish it wasn't so -- I wish the debate wasn't so protracted, but...
MCCAIN: But certainly I look forward to it.
QUESTION: Senator, a little straight talk here. Are we in a recession?
MCCAIN: I certainly think so, but let me just add to that comment. America -- it's really kind of a technical term used by people who are economists and make these kinds of judgment. The important factor here is that Americans are hurting. Americans are hurting today. They're hurting in the towns and cities across America. They're sitting around the kitchen table, saying, "Are we going to be able to make our home loan mortgage payments? Are we going to be able to -- do I have to try to get a second job? Can I keep my job? Why was I laid off?"
I mean, these are very, very tough times in America. And they're not too interested, frankly, in the technical as to whether we're in a recession or not as that there is millions of Americans who are in danger of losing their homes, hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs, and we have enormous challenge to face and to fix it, beginning with people's ability to keep their home.
And, as you know, I came up with a proposal for a guaranteed 30- year FHA-guaranteed loan for someone who is eligible, their primary residence, and that loan would be reflective of the new, unfortunately, diminished value of the home they live in.
QUESTION: But, Senator, you said, "I think so," when asked the question about a recession. So has the president done enough to prevent the situation that we're in today?
MCCAIN: I think we can all look back at many of the things that happened or didn't happen in the run-up to this crisis that we are in. And I think the finger of blame can be pointed at everybody, including the Congress, including the president himself.
And I think that there's plenty of that blame to go around, including very greedy people that happen to be in Wall Street today who, like the CEO of Bear Stearns who decided the day before he was bailed out by the federal government to cash in millions of dollars worth of stock.
I believe it's Goldman Sachs yesterday just decided not to have a safe-or-play provision (ph). Why shouldn't the stock -- we're saying -- look, there has to be some modification of the greedy behavior by some of these individuals.
And they say, "Well, let the stockholders do it," and then one of the major investment houses in America just said, "Well, no, we won't have the stockholders issue a nonbinding resolution." So there's going to have to be, frankly, a lot more accountability.
QUESTION: Last month, you called for -- or you opposed aggressive intervention by the government to solve the mortgage crisis, but now you're calling for federal aid to homeowners and committing all of the government's resources to the problem. Why the change?
MCCAIN: Actually, Ron, I did not. I said that I did not want to reward the greedy lenders, and I didn't want to reward those who were speculators.
In my home state of Arizona, there are people who bought two or three houses in the upscale areas of my state and decided they would sit on empty houses in the full expectation they would flip those homes sometime in the future, in a year or two. They were banking on what had happened in the previous years.
I don't think those people ought to be rewarded; I do not. And that's why this proposal on home that I -- plan that I mentioned applies only to primary residences.
I said in my comments that there's a role for government to play and that I was working on a proposal, but I also repeat my assertion that greedy executives and people who took advantage of this should not be rewarded nor should those who were speculators be rewarded.
We can focus on this plan of mine. There are roughly 400,000 homeowners who can keep their homes who otherwise would not, people who are hard-working people who would have been able to keep their home under different circumstances. And now we're going to be able to make it possible for them to do so.
QUESTION: You're saying you did not call for -- you did not oppose aggressive involvement a month ago?
MCCAIN: I'm saying...
QUESTION: There has been a -- there does appear to be at least a change in tone.
MCCAIN: Well, again, I made a longer statement than the one that was quoted. I clearly stated at the time that there is a role for government. There always is.
I am a Teddy Roosevelt Republican. And Teddy Roosevelt believed that there is a role for government, as little as possible, but I think he said unfettered capitalism leads to corruption, I believe is the Teddy Roosevelt phrase.
So I did say in my statement then that I believed that there was a role for government, but I also believe that if we start engaging in massive bailouts that we will be laying further debt on future generations of young Americans.
We don't want to reward people who are undeserving of it, but we have to focus our attention on those Americans who are facing perhaps the gravest challenges that they've faced in their lives. Some American families today are at risk of losing their homes.
QUESTION: On a different topic, Democratic voters nationwide, among Democratic voters nationwide, whites who said race was an important factor in picking their candidate, by a 2-1 majority -- or were twice as likely to back Senator Clinton, the white candidate, than they were Barack Obama, an African-American candidate. Does it bother you at all that you might actually benefit from latent prejudice in the country?
MCCAIN: No, that would bother me a lot. That would bother me a great deal.
QUESTION: Is it possible that you may?
MCCAIN: I rely on -- frankly, I rely on the goodness of the American people. I think, at the end of the day, they will vote for that candidate that has the vision and the ideas for the future in these difficult times, both domestically and national security-wise, who they feel that they will be able to realize the fundamental, I believe, of the American dream, which is to give their kids a better life and a better world than the one that they inherited. I believe in the goodness of Americans.
Now, having said that, I know we have a long way to go in relations between the races. I am very proud of where we have come from. It was brought home to me when I visited Memphis the other day on the occasion of the anniversary of one of the great tragedies of our time.
And I understand that we've got a long way to go. I look back with great pride at what we've done in America and the progress we've made, particularly in the military. I'm very proud of the equal opportunity that we provide to a lot of Americans in the military today. And I'd like to see the rest of America continue. And there's a lot that needs to be done.
So I think it's a balance and great challenges ahead to reach a society where every American is judged by their talents and their ambitions and not by the color of their skin. And we have not reached that point yet. But I rely on the goodness and the decency of the American people and role models such as the late Dr. Martin Luther King.
QUESTION: I have to bring up a subject that you don't usually like. By January 2009, you'll be 72 years old. How does it make you feel knowing that voters may reject you because they feel you're too old to be president?
QUESTION: Wake up, sir.
QUESTION: You're not getting out of answering the question.
MCCAIN: Watch me campaign. Come on, on the bus. Come on, on the bus, again, my friends, all of you. You're all welcome. Come on. Watch me campaign. We keep a heavier schedule. We campaign harder.
I said at the beginning of the primary, with respect and affection for my opponents in the primary, I said I'll out-campaign them all. Had 101 town hall meetings in the state of New Hampshire.
We worked hard. We worked 16-, 18-, 20-hour days. I am capable of doing that; I know I'm doing that. And if anyone has any further doubts, come and meet my 96-year-old mother.
(LAUGHTER) We're going to do it. Not to worry.
People will judge me by my performance. I am confident that my energy, my intellect, my experience, and my judgment is what American people will -- hopefully that they will view me as qualified to be president of the United States.
QUESTION: Does your age make the significant -- put an extra significance on your running mate choice, considering she may be called on to serve?
MCCAIN: I think certainly in the eyes of the media that it does.
QUESTION: Well, of course. I just asked the question. How about with the public?
MCCAIN: I don't know -- I think it's something that's important, Ron, but just two points. One is that history shows that, as important as the running mate is, that people generally vote -- primarily their decision is made by who's at the top of the ticket.
And, second of all, it's sometimes a situation where your criteria, no matter what the other factors are, in my view, really should be someone who is clearly qualified in the respect they share your principles, your values, and your priorities.
One of the hardest things for a president of the United States to do is set those priorities. And so that would be the criteria that I have, but certainly it will be an important selection. It should always be an important selection, and it may be viewed by some as more important in my case.
QUESTION: How about a couple of names, since we're here?
MCCAIN: First, we rule out Fournier and Sidoti for any role in government whatsoever.
QUESTION: We appreciate that.
MCCAIN: I can't do that, Liz, because one of the things that gets into this speculation -- and I understand the speculation -- is that sometimes when names are mentioned, then it gets almost kind of into an invasion-of-privacy sort of thing.
And it's not fair to someone who is just a person, a citizen, that if their name comes up then, of course, then there's an intense focus on that individual. And I understand that. So it's hard for me to do that. Let me just say that I would hope that we could arrive at that decision earlier than later, but it is a long process to go through.
QUESTION: How early? Is it possible to get it done before the end of June?
MCCAIN: I don't know, Ron, because we're so -- the process is such that we haven't, you know.
QUESTION: You've said in the general election you really hope that it is more of a friendly argument among friends than a bitter dispute among enemies. So let me ask you about two of those friends in particular, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. What are the -- any chance that they could end up in your cabinet, either one of them?
MCCAIN: Off the top of my head, I don't think so, because of our differences in our philosophy, and our difference in our outlook, and our difference in views as to what's best for America.
But I do want to assure you -- and I make this commitment -- I'll go across America, and I'll find the best and brightest Americans that this nation has, and if they're Republican or Democrat, as long as they share my philosophy and my views, we need to -- there's a whole lot of things we need to do to restore trust and confidence in government.
Look at the approval ratings of Congress. Look at the right track-wrong track numbers. I read all those things. For months, I never believed them, in my own case. They were the worst, most bogus polls ever.
But the point is -- the point is that we've got to attract people into government that people can look at and say, gee, there's the guy that was the CEO of Cisco. And he is a great American success story. He understands this challenge of how we're going to catch up in telecommunications, he or she.
Look at the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, the former CEO of eBay, these people who have done so much for America, now it's time for them to give back. And I'm going to ask them to serve, for a dollar a year, by the way. And that's what we need to do, whether they're Republican or Democrat or libertarian or vegetarian.
QUESTION: So to be clear, no Obama, no Clinton in your cabinet?
QUESTION: No Democrat at all?
MCCAIN: I'm sure that they will continue to serve their cause, their belief and their party honorably in the United States Senate. I respect both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. This will be a respectful campaign. Americans want a respectful campaign. Every time in a town hall meeting, no matter what the makeup of that town hall meeting is, and I say, "I'll conduct a respectful campaign," which I believe in my totally objective fashion that I did in the primary, that Americans want a respectful campaign.
They're tired of the 527s. They're tired of the attacks. They're tired of the impugning people's character and integrity. They want a respectful campaign. And I am of the firm belief that they'll get it and they can get it, if the American demand it and reject a lot of this negative stuff that goes on.
QUESTION: Senator, on a different matter, in a debate a while ago you said, "I'll follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell." What do you mean by that?
MCCAIN: I mean that I'll get him. And one of the ways to get him is to improve our intelligence capabilities. And one of the ways that that has to be improved, although work is being done on it, is our capacity for human intelligence.
My friends, I think you know from public information that our ability technologically to gather information is remarkable, in fact, in the view of some citizens, too remarkable.
But the point is that we don't have today sufficient numbers and kinds of people who can go into Waziristan, in one of the most ungoverned places on Earth, if not the most, and blend in with the countryside and the people and gather information and get it back to us, because human intelligence is the only way you are able to ascertain the intentions of the enemy.
Technological intelligence is a way to divine what they're doing at the time. The only way you can have the ability to counter their plans and their evil plots to destroy us and everything we stand for and believe in is through human intelligence. That would be, obviously, my top priority.
QUESTION: Are you open to diverting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan if that's what it took to get him?
MCCAIN: I would not do that unless General Petraeus said that he felt that the situation called for that. I understand how tough things are. I understand the stress on the military. I hear from people all the time, God bless them, including our Guard and Reserve.
We have never asked the Guard and Reserve to do the things that they are doing today. And we need to have a larger Army and a larger Marine Corps and a larger Army and Air Force.
And, my friends, the Army and Marine Corps are a third smaller than they were at the time of the first Gulf War. And your question in your mind right now is, "Well, where are you going to get them?"
You're going to get them from the small towns in Pennsylvania, from the cities, from all over America, just as we have throughout generations. And we may have to do more to attract them. We may have to do more in order to attract them to serve their country.
And we may have to do what I believe I can do as president, and that is inspire Americans to serve a cause greater than their self- interest, and that's not just the military, although I believe that's the noblest, but it's the Peace Corps, it's AmeriCorps, it's volunteer organizations.
It's ways of serving one's country, because this challenge we're facing of radical Islamic extremism, my dear friends, is going to be with us for a long, long time, and it's going to require the goodwill and the patriotism of every single American.
QUESTION: Senator, when confronted with the political consequences, though, of the war in Iraq, you often say, "I'd rather lose an election than lose a war." But how do you win the war if you don't win the White House?
MCCAIN: If I don't win the White House?
MCCAIN: After I come out of my deep depression...
MCCAIN: I think, you know, if that scenario follows -- and it's certainly a possible one. This is going to be a spirited, I think, and very close election at the end of the day. I have no reason to believe otherwise, and I shouldn't believe otherwise.
But if I did not -- if the American people made their judgment, I would go back to the United States Senate. I've been on the Armed Services Committee for many years. I will continue to work to defend this nation.
I would be glad to give my best advice and counsel to any president of the United States, as I have in Republican and Democrat candidates in the past. And I hope I would continue to be able to play a role in defending this nation and its security.
QUESTION: You've opposed torture because you say our country stands for something better and it exposes our troops to torture, and you obviously have your biography to back that up. Why doesn't the same principle apply to detaining enemy combatants? Don't we stand for something better than holding people without...
MCCAIN: Yes. And I've made it very clear and I made it very clear in my statements and I made it very clear in my support of the Detainee Treatment Act, the Geneva Conventions, et cetera, that there may be some additional techniques to be used, but none of those would violate the Geneva Conventions, the Detainee Treatment Act, which I was the author of, and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. And we cannot ever, in my view, torture any American. That includes waterboarding. And if I could just tell you -- and nothing that would violate the Geneva Conventions, of which we are signatories to.
Just one brief anecdote. I'm sorry for this long answer, but it really goes to the heart of America and what we're all about.
I was in Baghdad last Thanksgiving. I met -- Lindsey Graham and I met with a former high-ranging member of Al Qaida who had come over to our side. I said, "How did you enjoy such success after America's initial and the coalition's initial military victory?"
He said two things. He said, one, the total lawlessness that prevailed after the military victory. It just -- it was a total breakdown in everything and it helped us enormously.
And he said the second thing, he said, was Abu Ghraib. He said, "Abu Ghraib was our greatest recruiting tool." Now, my friends, I believe it. I believe him.
We cannot -- we are the shining city on a hill. We cannot do what our enemies do and expect to hold the respect and admiration of people all over the world.
And finally, from a practical standpoint, the reason why military leaders that I know, ranging from Colin Powell to General Jack Vessey and others, don't want us to torture people is a more practical side.
Suppose we're in another war in the future. I'm not talking about with Al Qaida. And in that war, Americans become prisoners. What do you think might happen to them, since we countenanced such treatment, if we countenance such treatment of the people who are held as prisoners in our custody?
I think the answer is obvious: We owe that to the American men and women serving and fighting in uniform today.
QUESTION: If you were elected, chances are you would have an opportunity to put on the bench or replace on the Supreme Court a couple pro-Roe v. Wade justices. Is it safe to assume that, if you were elected and had that opportunity, that we would have a court that would overturn Roe v. Wade?
MCCAIN: Ron, first of all, that is an inappropriate question to be asked a nominee of the court, where you stand on any specific issue. We all know that.
QUESTION: But you will...
MCCAIN: I do not support Roe v. Wade. I thought it was judicial activism.
I would appoint to the United States Supreme Court -- let me make this very clear, and people can judge it however they want to -- I will appoint nominees to bench, to the federal bench, including the United States Supreme Court, that in my view have a record of strictly interpreting the Constitution of the United States of America.
That is the only criteria, and I think it should be the only criteria. Everybody knows that it's inappropriate to ask a nominee a specific position they would take on an issue that came before the court. I will obviously stick to that.
QUESTION: It is not inappropriate to find out what the judge may or may not have written about the issue of abortion. Would you want to know how your judge has previously written and spoke on that issue, without asking any questions...
MCCAIN: I would want to know that nominee's overall record of strictly interpreting the Constitution of the United States.
QUESTION: Would you want to find out about their abortion -- record on abortion?
MCCAIN: I would want to find out -- and I'm not ducking your question here. I don't think that, again, that that nominee should be asked about a specific position. But I think that a strict interpretation of the Constitution of the United States is the appropriate way to select these nominees.
QUESTION: Just one last try.
QUESTION: Would you though -- you would not ask the nominee, but would you ask your team to find out for me what this person's position has been on abortion?
MCCAIN: I would ask my team to find out if any potential nominee had a record of clearly -- of strictly interpreting the Constitution of the United States.
QUESTION: You're not going to answer the question, are you?
MCCAIN: Look, I don't think it's appropriate either to ask my people to ask or for me to ask. I mean, what's the difference between me asking or my people asking?
I have confidence -- I have confidence in people like Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. I have confidence in them. I didn't have to ask them or anybody find out what their positions on a broad variety of issues are. I think they have performed admirably. Those are the kind of justices that I would seek to nominate, find and nominate.
QUESTION: OK, now Liz is going to wrap this up with one last question, if you don't mind. QUESTION: Sir, Newsweek said in a recent cover story, on the environment, that it's a good bet that whoever wins the White House is going to be greener than the president, President Bush. Do you agree with that?
QUESTION: Now you answer the question.
MCCAIN: Well, let me just say very quickly, Liz, when I was in the 2000 campaign, town hall meeting after town hall meeting in New Hampshire, young people stood up and said, "What are you going to do about climate change?"
I came back. We had hearing after hearing on it. I believe that the debate should continue. I respect the debate on it.
But let me put it the way Tony Blair did. Suppose that we are wrong, and climate change is not real, and we adopt green technologies. All we've done is give our kids a cleaner world.
But suppose we are right and do nothing. Suppose we're right and do nothing about these increases in greenhouse gas emissions, which -- and then what do we do? We hand our kids a planet that may be damaged, and damaged far more severely than we know.
And, finally, could I say I don't think -- of course I'd like for Americans to turn off their lights and the television set when they're finished watching and do the things, don't take the extra trip to the store.
But I really also want to ask Americans to understand that with innovation, with entrepreneurship, with the kind of talent we have in America, we can develop green technologies which are far less expensive and will be more profitable, because the innovation and entrepreneurship will build products that we'll be able to sell all over the world.
The ability of America to innovate is a clear record. The world's greater exporter and importer and producer and innovator is the United States of America. And the American worker can compete with any worker in the world.
And to set up protectionism and barriers to trade, in my view, is a way that we have of not appreciating the talent and entrepreneurship and innovative capability that the United States of America has.
And free trade, in my view, free trade is one of the key elements in continuing the economic success that we've experienced in the past and we will regain in the future.
And history shows me that when you start practicing protectionism, and you set up barriers, and you don't take care of the displaced workers as we have to, which is a different story, my friends, it is very bad news for the economy of the United States of America and, therefore, the world.
QUESTION: So we have established that, whoever the president is, will be greener than President Bush. But are you greener than Senator Obama or Senator Clinton?
MCCAIN: Well, let me just say I have proposed legislation and we've had votes on legislation that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I don't think the record shows that Senator Obama or Senator Clinton have been involved actively as United States senators, and certainly not as sponsors of key legislation, which the legislation that Joe Lieberman and I sponsored was.
But I'll stand on my record on the environment, not just on climate change, my friends. I'm proud of my protecting the environment. I'm proud of my protection of the Grand Canyon. I'm proud of expanding our wilderness areas in my state.
As I said, I am a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, and he was a great, great environmentalist.
QUESTION: Do you know...
MCCAIN: If you ever go to the Grand Canyon, go to the El Tovar Lodge. You'll see the guestbook there. The first person to write in the guestbook was one Theodore Roosevelt. He said, "Do not harm this. Protect it for future generations. It's your obligations."
Come to the Grand Canyon and spend some money while you're there, please.
QUESTION: Well, Senator, thank you so much for coming out here today. We appreciate it. And we look forward to seeing you back on the bus. And he's not kidding when he welcomes all of you on the bus.
MCCAIN: I do. I do. Thanks for having me today. Thank you.