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Text: McCain Meets With President Bush

Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Following is the transcript of Sen. John McCain's news conference following a meeting with President Bush to discuss campaign finance reform.

MCCAIN: Good evening. The president and I and Dick Cheney had a very, I think, productive and good conversation about a broad variety of issues, ranging from the defense budget and our need to cut out wasteful and pork-barrel spending, to the budget and other issues, including, obviously, campaign finance reform.

We had a very substantive discussion about it. We talked about a variety of aspects. We did not discuss the schedule, because Senator Lott and I are negotiating that part of this situation.

We talked about the so-called paycheck protection issue. I talked about the fact that we should balance that with stockholders should give their agreement if they also have their money spent for political purposes. I think that the president found that to be something that also would be fair and equitable.

And we said we'd intend to have further discussions on this issue and a variety of other issues.

We had a very cordial conversation and I appreciate the amount of time that the president of the United States and the vice president of the United States would spend with me.


QUESTION: Is it still your intention, sir, to call for a vote on this by the end of March?

MCCAIN: We'd like to get the issue up before--we'd like to at least get it up before the end of March. We would. We are in negotiations with Senator Lott on that and the form that it would take, you know, as far as amendments, et cetera.

QUESTION: Senator, what would you like President Bush to do right now about campaign finance reform?

MCCAIN: I'd like President Bush to continue our discussions on this issue. And I'm convinced that we can work together on it, and that we could move forward on what I think is a very important issue for the American people. And I believe we can.

QUESTION: Do you walk away from here with the understanding that you have a deal with the president, that if you put in paycheck protection and he agrees to the shareholder provisions, he'll sign it?

MCCAIN: No, I believe I come away with the distinct impression that he's favorably disposed towards continued discussions on this issue and seeing if we can't work out something with the belief that both of us hold that this system needs to be fixed.

QUESTION: Senator, are you not still skeptical that the president will veto the legislation as it now is configured?

MCCAIN: The legislation that is now configured will go through an amending process, and I'm sure there'll be some changes made to the legislation. I intend to work with the president while we go through this process.

QUESTION: Senator, are you worried about your legislation competing with his agenda in the early going?

MCCAIN: No, I'm very hopeful that we can get it up before the Senate. We did not force it up here in the earliest days when we could have because of the fact that there's no legislation before the Senate, but we believe that we can fit it in.

QUESTION: Senator McCain, what, in your view, are the key differences between you and the president the need to be bridged before you can get an agreement?

MCCAIN: I don't know of any real key differences. We talked about the aspects of the bill that Senator Feingold and I just introduced. And it was more of a discussion of the bill and the issues surrounding it, including the dramatic increase in soft money, the independent campaigns, et cetera.

QUESTION: What about the question of individual soft money contributions? Is the president still opposed to a ban on individual soft money contributions?

MCCAIN: Well, we didn't go down a list of issues that he was for or against. What we did was, we talked about the legislation and the issues that we're facing and how we can best work together on these issues.

QUESTION: Did he have any objections that...

MCCAIN: What's that?

QUESTION: ... of things in the bill that he said he really would like for you to change or that he wanted to work on?

MCCAIN: Well, we want to work on the paycheck protection issue, the balancing of the stockholders' permission. We want to work on how best that these independent campaigns can be held accountable to the American people; how best we can rein in the proliferation of soft money, which is corrupting American politics; and the legislative process.

QUESTION: Senator, did he agree to go public with his support for this?

MCCAIN: I know that the president is publicly agreeable to continued discussions on this and trying to cure some of the evils that affect political campaign financing today.

QUESTION: But do you think he'll add it to his public agenda?

MCCAIN: I do not know. I do not know.

QUESTION: Are you farther ahead on this issue than you were after previous meetings with Mr. Bush?

MCCAIN: Well, I've not met face to face with President Bush on a broad variety of issues. And this is the first time we've had an in-depth discussion about this issue. And I'm very pleased that we had this discussion. I think it helped both of us.

QUESTION: Did he agree to do anything on your pork barrel list?

MCCAIN: Well, we mentioned that we have to get rid of a lot of the wasteful spending. And I mentioned a couple of my favorites, which provided him with a chuckle, including the $75,000 that was given to the Reindeer Herders Association so that Santa Claus could make his appointed rounds.

QUESTION: Senator, do you believe in Santa Claus?

MCCAIN: Of course I believe in Santa Claus. That's why I think it was wonderful we gave him that money.

QUESTION: Did you talk about the constitutional concerns that his spokesman talked about with us this morning?

MCCAIN: Well, only in a general sense, yes. OK? Good.

QUESTION: Senator, a couple of weeks ago you talked about the idea that if you didn't get satisfaction with scheduling your legislation, you may seek to tie up other pieces in the Senate. Is there a need for that now, or can you shelve that?

MCCAIN: Well, a lot of it depends on the result of our negotiations with Senator Lott who is in charge of the Senate schedule, as you know. I hope that we can an agreement with Senator Lott. If not, we maintain--Senator Feingold and I maintain our position that we will have to exercise our options.

QUESTION: I heard it's going backwards. Is that true?

MCCAIN: No. No, I think we're making some progress with Senator Lott, but I think in the next couple of days we'll know.

QUESTION: Did the president ask you to just hold off on campaign finance until he gets other...

MCCAIN: No, I was not asked. That was not requested of me.

QUESTION: What was the value of today's meeting, Senator?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it's always valuable when you have a chance to have an in-depth discussion with the president of the United States about a variety of issues. And I think it increased both of our understanding of the issue of campaign finance reform and some of the aspects of it that he had not reviewed in the past that I was able to get my point of view across and my sense of urgency that we take this up at an early time.

One of the fundraisers was quoted in a newspaper today, who said, "It's time that the inaugural is over; now we've got to get out and start raising money."


QUESTION: Are you concerned about all the large (OFF-MIKE) that went into the inaugural and picking the Wiley brothers?

MCCAIN: No, we didn't discuss that.


MCCAIN: OK, thanks very much. Thank you all very much.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

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