McCain Remarks on His Political Career
Press Conference -- Phoenix, Ariz.

CQ Transcripts Wire
Tuesday, November 25, 2008 2:14 PM

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-ARIZ.): Hi, everybody. I just wanted to give a brief update on my activities and agenda.

I'm very happy to be back and looking -- already spending several days at work here, and looking forward to a very active agenda, and looking forward to resuming my duties in the Senate and with the significant challenges that we face.

MCCAIN: As you know, President-elect Obama and I had a very good meeting and discussed a number of issues, ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the need for -- address the challenges facing our economy, including various reforms in the practices of the Congress, as far as spending and budgetary issues are concerned.

So I look forward to working with President-elect Obama and -- as we face these enormous challenges that we have.

As far as -- I intend to travel soon to both Iraq and Afghanistan. Obviously, the situation in Iraq, as regards to the status-of-forces agreement and the status of our forces and the -- the success of the strategy, and now the next steps we need to take, I look forward to discussing with General Odierno and the leaders of the Iraq government.

And, of course, we know we face significant challenges in Afghanistan, which I think almost all of us are in agreement will require increased U.S. presence, NATO participation, and obviously -- also, we'll be visiting Pakistan to discuss with the Pakistani government, the prime minister, and others, the -- and president, the state of our relations with Afghanistan and how we can work more closely together.

We also need to have the issue of defense procurement reform addressed. That will be one of my highest agenda items.

In Arizona, I will resume my duties in the Indian Affairs Committee and work on Native American issues, land, water, and, of course, the significant military presence we have here in Arizona. Our bases and our training grounds, our Goldwater Ranges and others, are very vital to maintaining the training and readiness of our members of the military.

And so I'll be looking forward to working on those issues, as well as the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Finally, could I say that I certainly applaud many of the appointments that President-elect Obama has announced, including what is pretty well known, and that is the selection of Governor Janet Napolitano as the new head of the Department of Homeland Security.

I have already talked with her and look forward to moving her nomination as quickly as possible through the United States Senate. I think she's highly qualified. And we as citizens of Arizona are very proud to have a border state governor and someone with her knowledge and expertise serving in this very, very important and vital position.

I think we all know that we face challenges from Islamic extremism throughout the world, and I believe that she will do an outstanding job.

With that, I'd like to answer any questions that you might have.

QUESTION: Let's start with the very basic, Senator. Are you running again in 2010?

MCCAIN: I intend to run again. We will make a formal announcement at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: Governor, considering...

MCCAIN: I'm a senator.


No problem.

QUESTION: Considering you were one of the leading advocates of immigration reform in 2007, do you intend to take up on that role again with President Obama? Or is it too much of a political liability, considering you're running for re-election?

MCCAIN: Running for re-election has never been a concern of mine as far as issues like that are concerned. I intend to discuss that with the president-elect.

It's pretty clear that our agenda, that all Americans are, is our economy, but I still am committed to comprehensive immigration reform, with the need to secure our borders and a guest-worker program that works, as well as providing a path to citizenship with many of those who are here illegally.

But, right now, the president's agenda is something that we have to -- Republicans and Democrats alike adhere to. And it's very clear that the state of our economy will be the number-one agenda item.

QUESTION: Senator, what do you make of Arizonans who think for the last 10 years you've been America's senator and not Arizona's senator? What do you tell them, now that the presidential office isn't yours and you're focusing again on Arizona?

MCCAIN: Well, I'm very proud to have served, and I'm proud during that period to have been elected and re-elected on numerous occasions. I would be glad to point to my record as chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee and Armed Services and all of the other issues and legislative accomplishments, ranging from protecting the Grand Canyon to issues affecting our border and our economy and many others.

I'm very proud of my record. And I was very pleased and proud to receive the majority vote, and the latest polling numbers show very high approval ratings for the job that I've done for the state of Arizona.

QUESTION: Senator, based on your activities with Sarah Palin, what do you see as her future, as far as the GOP is concerned, a possible run for the presidency, whatever?

MCCAIN: I think that Governor Palin's future is very bright in the Republican Party. By the way, I note that she is going to down to campaign for Senator Chambliss, obviously, in a very tight runoff race.

I think she's -- did a great job of energizing our base. I'm very proud of her. It's one of the great pleasures I've had, to get to know her and her family. And I think she has a very bright future in a leadership position in the Republican Party. And I'm still extremely proud of the fact that she agreed to be my running mate.


MCCAIN: I think right now my focus is on -- is on running re- election to the United States Senate. I do not envision a scenario that would entail that. Thank you.

QUESTION: Would you ever run for governor of the state?

MCCAIN: I don't -- my attention will be focused on -- on running for re-election in the Senate. That's a six-year term, and I would be committed to fulfilling that.

And I congratulate -- in fact, I've just had -- Senator Kyl and I just had a meeting with Jan Brewer, our secretary of state, congratulated her on what obviously is going to happen.

And we look forward to working very closely with her, as a lot of the issues that are affecting the state of Arizona, such as Medicare, Medicaid issues are directly related to the state of Arizona. So I think we'll work very closely together in a bipartisan basis.

QUESTION: Senator...

MCCAIN: And I called our newly elected representative from up in the northern part of the state and congratulated her, as well.

QUESTION: Senator...

MCCAIN: Where have you been, Dan?

QUESTION: I've been here. Can I ask you, maybe give us a little insight about the Sarah Palin pick. You kind of surprised everybody when you went with her. What was it that made you pick her, now that the election's over? I mean, can you tell us?

MCCAIN: Well, primarily, it was her qualifications, her reform agenda. She took on and defeated an incumbent governor of her own party. She had attacked corruption that she saw there in Alaska. She was a mayor.

She understands very well, as well as anyone, the energy challenges that are probably, along with our other economic challenges, one of the greatest challenges we've faced.

And I knew that -- frankly, that she would be an energizing factor, because she energized me (ph) and the impressions that I had of her and the meetings that I had with her.

So I just -- I just believe that, you know, also, outside the beltway was important. Americans have a very low opinion, very low approval rating of Congress and things that are happening in Washington.

We just saw, as we know, one of our most senior Republican senator in the United States Senate convicted. And so I -- I think that our base and most Americans viewed Governor Palin as a real breath of fresh air that swept across the country. And I'm very -- that's pretty much...


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) was the fact that she was a woman? Did that play much into your calculations at all?

MCCAIN: No, no, I think the fact that -- that Governor Palin is a reformer is really what impressed me, that she was willing to take on the special interests, both in her own state.

I mean, it's well known that the gas and oil companies really had enormous control over the government of the state of Alaska. She took them on head on.

I think it was primarily the reformer aspect and, frankly, a very principled conservative that I think is -- was what made me really decide that -- that she was best suited. QUESTION: On a personal level, how do you get over the crushing disappointment of losing this campaign, for which you worked so incredibly hard for so long, so many years?

MCCAIN: Well, I think you -- you really have to take an attitude -- as I said on election night, that what a great honor it's been for me to have been able to serve this country for so long.

The greatest honor, obviously, is to have been able to serve the state of Arizona. And we worked hard. And we inspired a lot of people, Sarah Palin and I. And I think we look back with pride at the campaign we ran and accept very much that the people have made a decision.

So the decision I'm basically making is to be able to continue to serve the state of Arizona and my country. And, obviously, that would mean in a couple of years asking for them to send me back.

And I would expect a very tough race. You always expect a tough race, no matter -- no matter what, and be prepared for that.

But just look back with pride and honor and also the fact that I was able to do things, go places, meet people, have an experience that very, very few Americans in history have been able to. And what a great honor and privilege it was to be the nominee of the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

QUESTION: Senator, speaking of principled conservatism, speaking of the base, where does the Republican Party go from here?

MCCAIN: Well, I think we have to understand the lessons that -- that -- of the election. And that was one of the -- one of them, among others, is that people want us to be fiscal conservatives.

I think if you asked our rank-and-file Republicans and independents, that we let spending get completely out of control, that we just basically became a party that had no fiscal discipline, and earmarking, and pork-barrel spending, and passing legislation that laid debt burdens on future generations of Americans.

I think that's one -- one of the lessons, and there are many, but I also believe that the American people are deeply, deeply concerned about the economy. And I think that that concern to a large degree is very legitimate. And I think that Americans decided to state the obvious, that they wanted a new stewardship of our country, particularly as far as the economy is concerned.

When we started this campaign, you would probably have argued that the war in Iraq was, you know, a major, major issue. And then, of course, the economic issues and success in Iraq, but that combined with the -- with the economy made that a -- a major issue.

And the American people decided -- and I respect that decision, I don't in any way criticize it -- that the economy was of vital importance, and it is, and that they wanted -- and so Republicans have to show the American people that we have the solutions to the economic challenges that face this nation, which are incredibly large, as we all know. Some of the...

QUESTION: Senator, as a follow-up question to the Republican base, what do you say to people in the Republican base, conservatives in particular, who say that the thought of an Obama presidency scares them, even terrifies them?

MCCAIN: Well, I think my message to them, as -- as I said on election night, it's time for Americans to join together. It's time for us to work together. It's time for us to sit down together and address the enormous challenges that -- that we face.

I think that -- frankly, that Senator Obama has nominated some people to his economic team that we can work with, that are well respected. And they -- I approve of many of them.

QUESTION: Senator...

MCCAIN: Let me -- let me just finish, if I could, please. And so I -- I think my message is to all Americans, as I said on election night, respect this landmark election, respect the fact America faces great challenges, and Americans expect us to work together.

That does not mean we won't have differences. That does not mean that we have -- it doesn't mean we have philosophical differences. But now it's time for us to work together for the good of the country.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) any regrets about your decision not to emphasize the Reverend Jeremiah Wright? Were you afraid of being labeled a racist if you had pointed that out?

MCCAIN: No, I -- I thought that that issue had been well ventilated and that -- that it was -- I think that what Americans really cared about was the economy, and their future, and their ability to hold a job, their ability to get health insurance. Those were the issues that -- that really, I thought, were defining, particular in the difficult times we're in.

Look, one thing I know about campaigns is that the -- the individual who lost always has that record parsed and examined and a lot of reasons for failure. And the person who won ran a perfect campaign. That's always the way history treats it.

And I -- I will submit myself to the judgment of history. I'm very proud overall of the campaign we ran and the people I was associated with and the dear friends that I have to this day.

QUESTION: Senator, how do you reconcile the call for fiscal discipline with the hundreds of billions, even trillions, possibly, that are going to be spent on the bailouts?

MCCAIN: That the "bailout," quote, has to be accompanied by fundamental reforms to stop the practices that got us into this position to start with, such as elimination of earmarks, such as the commitment, in my view, not to raise taxes at a time of great economic difficulties, reform the entire budgetary process that has given us a $10 trillion debt that we are laying on future generations of Americans.

So we have to fix the economy. But at the same time, we have to put in fixes in the way that we do business so that we will be able to prevent a reoccurrence of this kind of situation, which is of utmost gravity, and restore confidence. Confidence, confidence, confidence.

And, finally, one other area that I think we have to work on is housing. It is the housing crisis that started this. And it's the housing -- when home prices stabilize and begin to go up, I don't have to tell anybody in Arizona -- Arizona is one of the worst-hit states in America -- that we have to stabilize housing prices, values, and we have got to, in my view, still go out, and buy up these bad mortgages, and give people mortgages that -- so they can afford to stay in their homes.

One more.

QUESTION: Real quick, you mentioned the governor...

MCCAIN: (inaudible)

QUESTION: Congressman Grijalva has also been mentioned as a possibility for Interior.


QUESTION: And I was wondering if you could talk about that. And, also, you know, just in general, when, like, for example, when Bruce Babbitt was at Interior, was there advantages to Arizona and for you and Senator Kyl working with someone from Arizona?


MCCAIN: I worked very closely with Secretary Babbitt. I'm a great admirer and I believe a good friend, but, you know, I'm very proud of our state. We've had the Udalls, both Morris and Stu. We've had Bruce Babbitt. We've had Paul Fannin. We've had John Rhodes, who was a Republican leader. We have Jon Kyl now, who's the second senior Republican, our Republican whip.

We -- Raul Grijalva has done a -- a great job on -- on major of these issues. So -- and, of course, with Governor Napolitano being appointed to the Department of Homeland Security, I'm very proud of what, you know, was once a very small state and is now a fairly good- sized state, but the -- the legacy of leadership that -- that we have provided.

Unfortunately, now it's Goldwater, Udall, Babbitt, McCain, all who have made it, again, impossible for mothers in Arizona to tell their children that some day they can grow up and be president of the United States.

Thank you very much. Thank you all.

QUESTION: Do you think that's true? (OFF-MIKE)

MCCAIN: I hope not. Someday. Someday. Thanks.


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