Sunday, June 19, 2005

McCain on "Meet"

Tim Russert and John McCain went the full hour today on "Meet the Press", and there's much to digest from the interview, so I'll get right to it.

On Iraq: McCain continued to repeat his mantra that we've made "serious mistakes" in Iraq, adding "the key is to fix them." He rejected VP Cheney's assertion that the insurgency is in its 'last throes' with a flat "no," but went on to note "there are some signs which can be viewed as hopeful." He said, as he has in the past, that Bush should level with the American people, who "would like to be told, in reality, what's going on" in Iraq so that they understand the need to stay there until "Iraqis are able to take responsibility for the security of their nation." "It's long, it's hard, it's tough," McCain said at the outset, but we should "wait until we achieve the successes, and then celebrate them."

On declining military recruitment numbers: "We have to increase incentives for people to join the military," McCain responded, suggesting shorter enlistment periods and increased educational benefits. But most generally, leaders should "talk a lot more about patriotism, about national service, about the challenges America faces around the world" and how Americans can serve the country in various ways, in or out of uniform. "The biggest mistake we made after September 11th was not calling on Americans to serve," he said, suggesting AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, Teach for America and other outlets for possible service opportunities. This element, of "serving a cause greater than your own self-interest" was one of the many things that attracted me to John McCain's campaign back in 1999, and I'm glad to hear him returning to this important theme.

On Syria: McCain sounded rather ominous about the problem of Syria, saying that the country's borders "are serving as a conduit for a lot of people coming into Iraq." "We have to put additional pressures on Syria," he said, suggesting that the US "go to the international organizations" and seek sanctions and/or condemnation.

On Gitmo: Asked if the Guantanamo Bay facility needed to be closed, McCain said "not necessarily," noting "the frustration is, what are we going to do with these people? They deserve to have some adjudication of their cases." He recognized the threat that could exist should detainees be released if acquitted at trial, but said America must "balance that against what it's doing to our reputation around the world" to keep them locked up without trial. "Even Adolf Eichmann got a trial!" McCain said. Russert asked McCain if he agreed with a statement from Ross Perot to the effect that our (mis)treatment of some detainees might put future American POWs at risk, and McCain said yes. "We will not have a moral high ground" the next time we are in a situation where American soldiers are held prisoner, McCain responded. "It worries me, and it keeps me up at night. It really does." I wish that kind of concern kept alot more senators awake at night, rather than distractions like ...

On Dick Durbin: McCain dismissed calls from Newt Gingrich to censure Senator Durbin for his remarks of last week, but urged the Minority Whip to apologize to the Senate and to read Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. McCain said Durbin's comments did "a great disservice to the majority of men and women who are serving at Guantanamo," before predicting that the story won't be around much longer. That's a moment we can all look forward to.

On Terri Schiavo: Refusing to take Russert's bait and criticize Bill Frist, McCain said "In hindsight, maybe we shouldn't have" taken action in the Senate in the Schiavo case, calling it "an American tragedy." "I think we ought to get this issue behind us and move forward."

On Stem Cells: McCain acknowledged having been persuaded by Nancy Reagan and other "very smart people" that embryonic stem cell research is worthy of federal funding, while making clear "all of us are opposed to human cloning." "For us to throw away opportunities to cure diseases," McCain said, "would be a mistake." Asked if he supported the use of embryos left over from fertility treatments for stem cell research, the senator said he thought that ought to be left up to the couple (as the bill currently pending in Congress would do).

On the 'Gang of 14': Adopting the semi-official name for the group in his response, McCain chuckled when Russert read a series of quotes from the "Justice Sunday" crowd bemoaning his involvement in the nuclear compromise and declaring him 'dead on arrival' for the '08 GOP primaries. "I respect their opinions and appreciate the pressure they felt," McCain said, going on to note the fundamental point behind the judicial compromise: "Americans want us to get back onto issues that are important to them," noting his belief that current low public opinions of Congress are based on the fact that the members of the public "don't feel like we're addressing their agenda."

On a Supreme Court nomination: McCain said he felt the compromise "set the stage for a reasonable debate on a Supreme Court nominee," adding "I'm proud of what we did." He said he didn't think President Bush will send a filibuster-inducing nominee to the Senate (although he acknowledged that he has had no discussions with the president on that front), and in perhaps his most striking statement of the interview, said whether a filibuster happens "is not up to the 45 Democrats and 55 Republicans, it's up to the fourteen of us who made the agreement." He said he thought it was "clear in the minds" of the Gang of 14 members "what 'extraordinary circumstances' are."

On Roe v. Wade: Asked if he disagreed with the Court's abortion decision, McCain responded "I certainly do to some degree," in that he felt it was "not based on sound, up-to-date medical technology." He seemed most uncomfortable when Russert asked what he thought would happen should the ruling be overturned, saying that he "didn't know" because he didn't think it likely "anytime soon, not given the tenor of politics in America."

On Climate Change Legislation: McCain said he wasn't sure if his amendment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (cosponsored with Joe Lieberman) will pass the Senate, but said "there's every change that we could get a majority or close to a majority." The alternatives, he said, wouldn't do enough: "We've got to start reducing emissions now," was his big line, with a strong emphasis on the "now." Asked about the role of White House aide Philip Cooney in "editing" a report on climate change, McCain feigned surprise. "Shocked! Shocked!" he quipped, before getting serious. "I'm sorry this is happening ... I'd like to see the Administration far more involved on this issue." Of climate change generally, he said "This is serious. It's real." "The terrible thing about climate change," is that "the worst effects are down the road," and people aren't capable of seeing the impact or the benefits of any action at the present time. He quoted Tony Blair approvingly, whose argument lately has been look, if we take action and it turns out global warming isn't a problem, we have a cleaner environment. If we don't act, then we have a real problem. Strong statements from McCain on this front, which was very good to see.

On fuel efficiency standards: Russert asked if McCain still supports strict increases in CAFE requirements, allowing the senator to reiterate his support for that. McCain said "We're going to be driven to it" by the high price of oil, and that action is necessary very soon.

On 'upsetting the base': "I've got to do what I think is right, and if it offends a certain political constituency, I regret it, but I can't do anything about it." Hear hear!

On 2008: The last twenty minutes (literally) of the interview was given over to what McCain might do in the next presidential go-round. Of running again, he said "I think it's an option," but that he was not going to make a decision until after the 2006 elections, and then he was going to ask himself "do you think you can win and do you want to run?" Responding to Russert's expressed concerns that he might not have enough support from the Republican base ("how do you win the Republican nomination without winning among Republicans?") McCain first said that he "wasn't thinking about that yet," but then went on to note "Polling numbers, if they mean anything, show me with strong support among Republicans." He credited that, at least in part, to his support for Bush in '04 and his strong record of campaigning for other Republican candidates around the country.

Asked if age would be a factor in his decision, McCain said it would, but noted that his health is "excellent" and joked "my genes must be good," citing the vitality of his 93-year old mother Roberta. He got frustrated with the various scenarios that Russert kept pushing for 2008 (serving only one term, running with Jeb, working with Mark McKinnon, etc.), saying at one point "This is beginning to resemble a Saturday Night Live skit."

Of course Russert kept going, ending the interview by asking McCain if he'd run as an independent in 2008 should he not get the Republican nomination. McCain's response was something less than Shermanesque: he said first that he didn't think that would be "possible," and then quickly added "I cannot imagine a scenario where I would" leave the Republican Party and run as an independent.

: Not a bad interview. Generally vintage McCain. I was surprised that Russert didn't ask about Bolton, and I'm sick of every interviewer spending half the interview on 2008 when they know full well what the answers are going to be. McCain's statements on Gitmo, climate change, and national service are necessary and important, and I hope they'll be heard and distributed widely.

Always a pleasure to watch an interview where you can't predict the answer to every question.

[Update: MSNBC has released the transcript of the McCain interview. -- 12:29 p.m.]


At 4:29 PM, Blogger ejpoeta said...

good roundup of the interview. as i stated at dailykos... i only caught bits and pieces. i am not sure what i think of mccain right now. in 2000 presidential race i thought he would have been a reasonable republican (though next to dubya, anyone pretty much looks reasonable!)


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