This is a partial transcript of The Tony Snow Show, FOX News Radio, July 7, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
TONY SNOW, HOST: Welcome back, friends. I’m joined now on the line by Senator John McCain of Arizona. Senator McCain, thanks for joining us.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Thanks, Tony. Good to be with you.
SNOW: You know Senators Edwards and Kerry. Do you think that these guys naturally have a chemistry?
McCAIN: I’ve never seen them together, you know. I’ve known each one of them separately, because we’ve dealt together on separate issues, but I think they have very different personalities, perhaps they’re complimentary.
SNOW: Well, it’s going to be interesting to see how it blends.
McCAIN: Yes, you know, I think one is obviously from Seneca, South Carolina, the other one is from Boston. I think they have a very different upbringing. But you know, we’ll see, we’ll see. Clinton and Gore had different upbringings. At least to some degree, well maybe not as much as this one.
SNOW: Well, you’re absolutely right though, it’s going to be fun to see. Now John Kerry, is it true that John Kerry asked you to be his vice president?
McCAIN: Uh, no. No, it was never offered.
SNOW: It was never offered. So, it may have been discussed elliptically, but never flat out request.
McCAIN: Never was an offer, no.
SNOW: When you had conversations, did you think it was a little weird that he’d be calling you, even in general terms about this sort of thing?
McCAIN: Well, he and I have been friends for a number of years because of our efforts on POWs and MIAs which was a very hot issue back in the early 90’s, a lot of people have forgotten about it, but it was a- and we worked together to try to resolve that issue and I appreciate the work that he did on it. And, so it’s not unusual for us to have conversations.
SNOW: Right. But, so- I want to just lay to rest once and for all: never approached you, never hinted that he wanted to talk to you about being vice president. All that kind of stuff was made up.
McCAIN: Well, I cannot attest to that. All I can tell you is my conversations with him were private conversations, but he never offered it.
SNOW: OK. Now, there’s also a bit of controversy as well about the fact that you are now- you are the most loved man of politics right now. I don’t think that there’s any body in America that has an ad that you don’t appear in.
McCAIN: I gotta say, it’s gotten a bit bizarre, a bit bizarre. To say the least. Different ads and different ads, and I would say, Tony, that I have not, as you know, attacked John Kerry because he is a friend of mine, and I would hope that in return that the Kerry campaign would not use me to attack Bush who I am supporting for reelection. In other words, of course things were said in the primary that I- President Bush and I were engaged in four years ago, because we had different views, but to dredge those up from a campaign four years ago to someway attack President Bush I think is inappropriate, and I that hope the Kerry campaign will not do that.
SNOW: Senator, I think that train may have left the station.
McCAIN: Yeah, oh yeah, but I don’t want them to do that. And I don’t think it’s appropriate. There are differences voiced between Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards when they were running against each other in the primary.
SNOW: I have a feeling those will get aired out by the Bush campaign Let me ask you a more serious question. You have talked about the President’s moral clarity since Sept. 11, 2001. Do you think you perceive equivalent moral clarity on the part of John Edwards and John Kerry?
McCAIN: No, because they haven’t been in the position to excersize it. I’m not saying they wouldn’t. I’m saying the President of the United States did. Only he President of the United States is in a position in a time of national crisis, which Sept. 11th was and is to this day, and the President of the United States rallied the American people in a very, very traumatic time, and I would argue in some ways more traumatic than December 7th, although in other ways, not so. But certainly one of the crucial times in American history.
SNOW: Do you think, do you think if these guys were elected, they would behave in substantially the same ways as the President?
McCAIN: You know, I don’t know, because they are untested and unproven. The President has been tested. The President has had the incredible obligation of rallying the nation, of beginning to assemble a counter attack against the war on terrorism. He did exactly the right thing by going to Afghanistan first and taking out the Taliban. If there’s one thing I know, and that be living in a border state, you’re never going to build borders and secure our borders, you’ve got to go after terrorism where it resides, and in this case initially it was Afghanistan. He did exactly the right thing.
SNOW: Do you think the war on terror should be the central issue this year?
McCAIN: Yeah, I think obviously the economy and jobs are a central issue, but the very security of the United States is involved here, and no one believes that we have won the war on terror. I will say the fact that we have not experienced an attack- another attack since Sept. 11 -- is evidence that we have had some success. Most people after Sept. 11 believed there would be another attack within -- on, inside the United States since Sept. 11. Remember? And we’ve been able to prevent that. Now I’m not going to say that we’re not going to have an attack tomorrow. But I am saying that the record so far after Sept. 11 has been, has been good.
SNOW: Senator, what do you make- there are a lot of Democrats out there, I dare say there are a lot of people listening to this show who believe the President has lied. What do you tell them?
McCAIN: I don’t- I’m on a commission appointed by the President as far as weapons of mass destruction is concerned. I think the President of the United States was given bad intelligence information, and and we’ve got to get to the bottom of it. Colin Powell believes that. I’m sure that the evidence shows that it was not the immediate threat that the President believed there was, but I would quickly add, I also believe that if Saddam Hussein were still in power today he would attempt to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and if he had the opportunity, he would use them. Which to me, justifies our entry into Iraq.
SNOW: Senator, Dick Cheney has become the focus of a lot of controversy now. In fact, there’s talk now of his being taken off the ticket.
McCAIN: I doubt that seriously. I think he enjoys a relationship with the President that is almost unique, and I think they are literally a team, which not- which is very unusual in American political history.
SNOW: Do you think he is a good Vice President?
McCAIN: Sure, sure. Sure I do.
SNOW: Now, as you look forward to the campaign this year, it looks as if this thing is going to get fairly personal.
SNOW: You have been trying, and God bless you for it, to try to get both sides to calm down a little bit and at least behave in a civil manner toward one another.
McCAIN: Well, I wish they would, because it’s a disservice to the American people. The American people are not particularly interested in who did or did not serve honorably in Vietnam. I think I think the President served honorably, I think John Kerry served honorably. They’re far more interested in the war in Iraq. They’re far more interested in the war on terror. They’re far more interested in saving social security, medicare, etc. I think we’ve got to ask our candidates to project a vision for the future of this country, rather than look back at a war that ended more than 30 years ago.
SNOW: Good idea. Also, one of the other developments now, appears that the Iranians are being caught red handed in Iraq with weapons.
McCAIN: As disturbing as that is their continuing development of nuclear weapons. I don’t think there’s any doubt that they have played a shell game with the IAEA and have avoided the inspections and are on the road to developing a nuclear capability which could be very disabling to the Middle East, no to say- not to mention the reaction the Israelis would have to such an eventuality.
SNOW: What should the U.S. do?
McCAIN: Well, first of all, I think we’ve got to try all of the usual measures, through the U.N., the Security Council, etc. and then obviously we have to examine every other option we have. I would not rule out a military option, ever, under any situation, but I think we’ve got to go through all of the other efforts, but we’ve got to get serious and I think the administration is serious. But when- what the Iranians are trying to do is reach a certain stage of development and then just opt out, and say we’re free to do whatever we want to do as far as development of these weapons is concerned. I don’t think there’s any doubt that they and Syria are exporting fighters, into- as well as from Saudi Arabia, into Iraq, which is a very destabilizing feature.
SNOW: Senator, on the domestic front. The President is known on the domestic side as having pushed for tax cuts. Would you like to see the administration come up with a political long ball, something big and visionary, whether it be taking on social security, or one of these other problems you’ve mentioned, so they have an agenda for a second term?
McCAIN: I’d love to see that, and social security is a prime item. I’ll tell you another one, Tony, and that is a simplification of the tax code. No American understands the tax code, and every American now is totally scared when they send in their tax returns for getting an audit. No one can comprehend the tax code. And I think simplification of the tax code would be something that would resonate as it did way back in- I think it was 1986 when we last made that effort. But I would say, yeah, social security reform, because it’s fairly simple, you’ve got a certain amount of money going in, and a certain amount of money going out. Medicare is far more complex and hard to understand. I think the American people would understand that kind of plan and that frankly, would entail the use of individual retirement accounts, where people can be assured that their tax dollars, if you’re marked for their retirement, goes into their account that has their name on it, that can be used with certain limitations, for certain kinds of investments.
SNOW: Oh man, you’re talking my language. One of the last things I want to attack, would you even go so far as to propose a flat tax?
McCAIN: Absolutely, anything, anything is better than what we’ve got. Maybe not totally flat, but maybe like three tiers. Something like that. But tax simplification would go over enormously well.
SNOW: You better believe it. Senator John McCain, always a privelege.
McCAIN: Thanks, Tony.
SNOW: Hey, will you be my Vice President if I run sometime?
McCAIN: Anytime. Yours, I would. Anybody else, no. You, yes.
SNOW: Senator John McCain, thank you very much.
McCAIN: Bye bye.