Transcript: Sen. John McCain on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript from the May 21, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: And joining us now, Senator John McCain, who, as usual, is at the center of a number of key issues on Capitol Hill.

Senator, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday".

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Thank you, Chris. Nice to be back.

WALLACE: Thank you. Let's start with immigration reform and the complaints from conservatives about the comprehensive package that you're trying to get through the Senate. Take a look.


U.S. SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Some say well, it's not really amnesty, it's earned legalization. Well, whatever it is, it looks very similar, if not its identical twin.


WALLACE: I know you call it earned legalization, but isn't it amnesty in the sense that the penalty for illegally coming into this country is deportation, and under your plan the vast majority of illegals would not be deported?

MCCAIN: No, Chris. In fact, I think what we have today is de facto amnesty because people are living here illegally without any penalty whatsoever, around 11 million people.

The word amnesty in the dictionary means forgiveness. What we are talking about and what the overwhelming majority of American people support is an earned amnesty, criminal background check, paying back taxes, $2,000 fine, learn English, work for six years before getting in line behind everybody else. It's very tough. It's called earned citizenship.

Now, we all know that in the '80s we did amnesty. We did an amnesty, and it didn't work. And so we're not going to make that mistake again.

And just finally, again, I respect the views of my colleagues. I think we've had very good and productive debate on the floor of the Senate. And we've had a lot of good votes. I think the Senate, for the first time in a while, is sort of functioning the way the Senate should. I think we're going to have an outcome probably the middle of this coming week.

WALLACE: This week, this past week, you were one of the leaders in a 50-49 vote — you were one of the 50 — that will allow illegal immigrants to collect Social Security benefits even if they got their job illegally by forging documents. Forty-four Republicans voted against this. You were one of only 11 Republicans who voted for it.

At a time when Social Security is running out of money, should we allow illegals to benefit from committing a felony?

MCCAIN: Well, they paid the taxes. Do you want to refund — at least shouldn't you then, if you don't want them to get benefits — they paid the taxes. They came out of their salaries, and so they contributed.

Should they at least not — should they be deprived of the taxes that they paid? I don't think that's fair.

WALLACE: But I don't have to tell you conservatives are saying they broke the law and they're going to benefit from that.

MCCAIN: Chris, many conservatives — that's the same argument that we made throughout this debate, that we are giving them amnesty. Look, the taxes were taken out of their paychecks. They were put into a fund that is a legitimate fund.

Of course, they were illegal because they were here illegally. But what we'd like to do over time, and I think we could do this over time, is establish some of these funds back in the country that they came from, so that there would be incentives for them to return home.

But if you just said I'm sorry, you came here illegally, even though you paid into the trust fund, we're just taking your money, I don't think that's really fair, either.

WALLACE: You say you think that there's going to be a bill passed by the Senate this coming week.

MCCAIN: I believe so. I'm guarded. You never try to predict the Senate, but I think so.

WALLACE: And prospects for making a deal with the House, which is still standing by an enforcement-only package?

MCCAIN: I think they're better. I think the president's speech was very well received by the American people. I think many of my colleagues in the House recognize that this is something we need to do from a standpoint of resolving this issue one way or the other.

And my colleagues also understand that Republicans in the House recognize that this is an issue that could hurt us with Hispanics unless we get it resolved, and with the American people. They want us to lead and resolve this issue. One thing we're in agreement on: The status quo is unacceptable.

WALLACE: Befitting your role as the presumed frontrunner for the 2008 Republican nomination, you are taking it in the neck these days from...


WALLACE: ... critics on both the right and the left...


WALLACE: ... who seem to agree that you are pandering to conservatives but that really — well, some of them say you're a moderate, some of them say you're a conservative, but that you're not what you claim to be.

Last weekend you gave a speech, a commencement address, at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. He's the man you once called an evil influence on the GOP, an agent of intolerance. Is appearing with Falwell, as you put it, moving on or selling out?

MCCAIN: Well, I hope that it's viewed by most Americans as moving on. But also, the fact is that I'm honored every year to speak at various institutions at a significant point in young people's lives. In the case of Reverend Falwell, he came and said he wanted to put our differences behind us. I was glad to do that.

I think one of the stupidest things you can do in politics is hold grudges. It's a waste of time and it doesn't do anything for you or for your constituents. The people I represent in the state of Arizona don't expect me to spend my time looking back in anger.

I was honored to be there. I was well received, I'm happy to say, there by the students, and I look forward to speaking at Ohio State University very soon where I've been invited also.

WALLACE: Meanwhile, the Senate is going to vote in a couple of weeks on a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. I want you to take a look at what Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention had to say about you recently.

Here it is. If he doesn't change his mind and support this amendment, he will have a virtually impossible task to win the Republican nomination.

Question, Senator McCain, will you vote for or against the federal marriage amendment when it comes up before the Senate in June?

MCCAIN: I will vote against it because I believe very strongly that in a — first of all, on the sanctity of union between man and woman, but I also believe that the states should make these decisions.

The states regulate the conditions of marriage, and unless there's some decisive overruling by the federal courts, then I will continue to believe that the states should decide.

We in Arizona should make our decisions about the status of marriage in our state just as the people in Massachusetts and other states should make their decisions.

WALLACE: Aren't you trying to pull off a pretty tough political challenge here, some would say it's even threading the needle, to be, whether you want it or not, the frontrunner for the nomination, but at the same time to be the straight-talking political maverick?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I haven't decided whether to run or not, but more importantly...

WALLACE: We don't care whether you've decided, Senator.

MCCAIN: ... more importantly, I've found in my life that when I do what I think is right — for example, on the marriage amendment — it always turns out in the end OK.

When I do things for political expediency, which I have from time to time, it's always turned out poorly. For better or worse, I have a pretty good compass as to what my political philosophy and base and beliefs are, and I have to stick with them.

WALLACE: Give me an example, since you bring it up. What have you done? What would you admit you did for political expediency?

MCCAIN: I went down to South Carolina and said that the flag that was flying over the state capitol, which was a confederate flag, was — that I shouldn't be involved in it, it was a state issue. It was an act of cowardice.

WALLACE: Act of cowardice on your part.


WALLACE: And you did it because you thought this will help me in the South Carolina primary in 2000.

MCCAIN: Yes, sure, this won't alienate a certain voting block. But I lost anyway.

WALLACE: And how did you — I mean, did you sit there — because I know you're a man of strong opinions. How did you sit there and say you know, I don't believe this, but I'm going to say it anyway?

MCCAIN: Oh, we're all gifted, no matter how principled we are, with the gift of rationalization. But I knew it was wrong at the time, but I rationalized it: Well, you know, I can use this as a way to avoid a political, you know, downside. And it was wrong.

WALLACE: How do you know that if you were to run and become president that you wouldn't do that again?

MCCAIN: Well, I've learned a lot of lessons in my life. I'm older than dirt. I've got more scars than Frankenstein, but I've learned a lot of things along the way. And that was a very strong lesson for me. And there have been other times in my life. But I can tell you that I know the difference between right and wrong.

WALLACE: Finally, I want to talk to you about the war on terror, which, as you saw, we just discussed with Secretary Rice.

The U.N. Committee Against Torture, an issue that you're very concerned about, says that we should shut down Guantanamo. Last week the attorney general of Britain, our staunch ally, said that Guantanamo is unacceptable. Should we shut it down?

MCCAIN: It's not so much Guantanamo as it is the adjudication of these cases. You know, we seem to focus on the location rather than the situation. The situation is we've got hundreds of people down there, and there's no completion of their case.

I don't think they deserve a fair jury trial, don't get me wrong. But there's got to be some kind of adjudication so that we can decide to keep them for life, or execute them, depending on their crimes, or, if we don't have sufficient evidence, to send them back to whatever country they came from.

And so I think if we could move forward with the process of adjudicating these cases and...

WALLACE: So you, in effect, agree with the Committee Against Torture — hear we out — that the idea of this indefinite detention is not right.

MCCAIN: No, I don't think that's right. But I also believe that this administration is working very hard, and it's frustrating, to try to get some type of process so we can make these — the administration recognizes and we recognize that this is symbolically harmful to America's image in the world, and I'm hoping that we can come up with a methodology and a process to resolve this situation.

WALLACE: Two other questions, and we're beginning to run out of time.

MCCAIN: Sure. Sure.

WALLACE: The military is investigating what seems to have been a very ugly incident at Haditha last November where as many as two dozen civilians, including women and children, may have been killed by Marines who then allegedly covered it up. As a soldier, how potentially damaging to our efforts in that part of the world?

MCCAIN: Of course it could be damaging. I hope that the million acts of kindness and sacrifice that American soldiers and Marines and men and women have made for the people of Iraq will be taken in consideration.

We all grieve and are alarmed when something like this happens, but I hope we can keep it in perspective. But it's very sad if it's true.

WALLACE: And finally, we have about a minute left.


WALLACE: What do you make of the formation of the new Iraqi government on the one hand, but on the other hand the failure to name an interior minister, a defense minister?

MCCAIN: I'm glad they've named the government. I'm sorry because those are two of the key positions. I hope they can name them soon. This is long and hard and tough, long and hard and tough, and we should not get too optimistic, but we should not think that we're going to fail, because we can't afford to fail.

WALLACE: Senator McCain, we want to thank you, as always.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Chris.

WALLACE: Always a pleasure to have you here, especially in studio.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

WALLACE: Please come back, sir.