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Direct Access: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Wednesday, May 13, 1998

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a possible contender for the 2000 presidential nomination and one of the most vocal congressional stewards of campaign finance and tobacco legislation, answered some of the more than 300 questions submitted during a live online discussion today. The transcript follows.

Fairfax, VA: If the tobacco companies are "bad" and need to be punished, why do you not support legislation making tobacco illegal, like other illicit drugs?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): Because 40 million adult Americans smoke, and we would undergo an experience very much like that during the Prohibition era. Our object is to stop kids from smoking, and our only goal is to reduce the compelling problem of 3,000 children beginning to smoke every day -- 1,000 of them will die early as a result of tobacco-related illnesses

Baltimore, MD: Please address the current wave of political intrigue into the private lives of our elected officials. How does this topic detract from pressing matters at hand? How does this effect future office seekers? When can the nation expect better government?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): I believe the nation can expect better government when we enact campaign finance reform. There will be a continuous controversy associated with how much of politicians' private lives are subject to public scrutiny and how much can remain private. I see no immediate resolution to this controversy, but I have no doubt that is a de-motivating factor when qualified young men and women consider running for public office.

Madison, WI: Polls indicate overwhelming support for campaign finance reform, and a solid belief that reform won't transpire. What, in your view, is the relation between this belief and the increasing non-participation of the public in the political system? Do people really feel – in your view – that the political system is hopelessly corrupted?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): I believe that the political system is badly in need of reform. The major difficulty in enacting reform is that we are asking incumbents to vote to change a system that keeps incumbents in office. Pressure from all Americans will have to increase before we achieve genuine campaign finance reform, but I am encouraged by the progress that Sen. Feingold and I have made.

Fairfax, VA: Does the religious right wield too much power within the Republican party?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): I believe that the religious right is an important part of the Republican Party, just as organized labor is an important part of the Democratic Party. And if some parts of our party are apathetic and are not engaged, then other parts of our party may achieve greater influence.

New York, NY: Why can we not raise the smoking age to 21 years to prevent "teen-age smoking"?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): I think we can, but I'd like to leave that up to the states. Most smokers start smoking before they're 18 years of age.

Syracuse, NY: When are you going to allow lifelong Democrats (like me) an opportunity to vote Republican for president?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): When we provide you with a candidate that has sufficient broad-based appeal.

Peoria, AZ.: Why have you loaded the campaign finance reform bill with language the Republicans will never accept? While seeming to vigorously endorse reform arenít you really the backdoor hatchet man for any reform?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): I believe that we must have balanced reform, and that means not only requiring union members to give permission if their dues are used for political purposes, but also for stockholders to give their permission if the corporation wants to use their money for political purposes. I believe that we are moving closer to campaign finance reform, and I believe in the concept of fairness and balance.

Reston, VA: What factors will you consider in making a decision to run for president?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): My first consideration is the views of my family. I also have four small children at home. Second would be whether I would be a viable candidate. Third, whether I believe I have the vision and the ability to satisfy the hopes and aspirations of a majority of the American people. I do not intend to consider this option until after the elections this November. But I'm very flattered by all of the mentioning.

McLean, VA: Given your background on defense-related matters through your appointment on the Senate Armed Services Committee, how would you resolve the current crisis regarding India's detonation of nuclear tests bombs?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): I would immediately enact economic sanctions of the severest nature. I would, if necessary, do everything within our power with other nations to isolate India economically. This action, if unpunished, will create a threat to stability in the region and the world that we have not faced since the end of the Cold War.

Las Vegas, NV: If an extra tax is placed on tobacco, what would you propose to spend the possibly billions of extra tax dollars on?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): I would first spend it on reimbursement to the states for the Medicaid expenses incurred by the treatment of tobacco-related illnesses. Second, I would spend money on research to determine the best ways to address the issue of teen smoking. I would consider providing a tax deduction for individual health insurance policies as well.

Durham, NC: Regarding the campaign finance reform legislation you are sponsoring, why don't you think the root of the current problem is just the lack of enforcement of existing laws? Won't new campaign funding restrictions just be ignored by the same people who are breaking current laws?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): The fact that current laws are being broken is a separate problem from that of current campaign finance practices. It is legal for an Indonesian gardener on a green card to give $400,000 to the Democratic National Committee and return to Indonesia and not be found. Obviously, that has to be fixed. Sen. Thompson, at the conclusion of his hearings, stated there is no restraint on any amount of money that can be given to a federal campaign in America today. That is clearly violation of the intent of the law. The explosion of soft money in political campaigns is corrupting the system. But I also agree we need to enforce existing laws.

Ft. Belvoir, VA: You recently said that campaign finance reform would be a major issue in the 2000 presidential race. Which party would this affect more: Republicans, Democrats, or both equally?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): I hope that we can enact campaign finance reform before the year 2000. If it is not enacted, then the American people, I believe, will judge each party by its commitment to genuine campaign finance reform.

New York, NY: The leadership of your party has repeatedly rebuffed you on issues that are not only important to you but are vital to the nation's political and physical health. In the light of this history, why are you still a Republican?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): I have worked with the leadership of my party on a number of important issues, such as the line-item veto, telecommunications issues, aviation issues and many others. Presently, Sen. Lott is working with me on tobacco legislation. I am a Republican because I adhere to the principals and philosophy of Abraham Lincoln.

US Army, Saudi Arabia: Why single out tobacco when many products (fast food, soft drinks, candy) have adverse health consequences?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): Tobacco is the only substance that even small amounts have a harmful effect on the health of the user.

Thank you for serving our country.

Richmond, VA: You have been a critic of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. What do you think is needed to reform the telecommunications industry to serve the needs of business and residential customers?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): I believe that, rather than competition, there have been mergers in the telecommunications industry and we must set a date certain at which time everyone can compete with everyone else. The result will be that some companies win and some companies lose, but the consumer will win. Presently, the consumer is paying higher cable rates, higher local phone rates and higher long-distance rates, while corporations make higher profits and mergers continue.

Atlanta, GA: Given that the Supreme Court has said that giving money is a form of expression and is therefore protected, what is the possible rationale for any form of restraint on contributions?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): The Supreme Court has stated that there can be no limit on campaign spending. The $1,000 individual contribution limit has never been challenged. So clearly, campaign contributions can be limited. Campaign spending cannot. Sometimes people confuse the two. Thank you for joining us today, Senator.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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