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

The following is a partial transcript of the April 2, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace:

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Just weeks ago he was the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Now he's slipped in the polls and had a disappointing start raising money.

We were with him as he traveled to key states trying to restart his campaign. And we sat down with the senator and his wife, Cindy, in South Carolina.

It's the first in a series of in-depth interviews with the candidates, a new feature that we call Choosing the President.


WALLACE: Senator McCain, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday" on the campaign trail this time.

ARIZONA SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Thanks, Chris. It's great to be here in one of the beautiful cities of America, Charleston.

WALLACE: It sure is. When Ronald Reagan ran for president, his platform stripped down to the bark was just a few words: Shrink government, cut taxes, build the military.

Using the same shorthand, what is your core platform?

J. MCCAIN: Reform government, fight this Islamic extremist element — that is a threat that challenges the world — and restore integrity to government.

WALLACE: Many loyal Republicans have grown disappointed with President Bush, and you referred to that in your announcement speech this week. You talked about the mismanagement of Iraq, of Hurricane Katrina. You talked about the failure to control spending.

What lessons have you learned from this presidency and how would your White House, your administration, be different?

J. MCCAIN: Well, one of the major things, of course, is — and one of the reasons, in my view, why we lost so badly in 2006 was spending. We let spending and government grow out of control.

We presided over the largest increase in the size of government since the Great Society. The president didn't veto any of the spending bills, and spending far exceeded the revenues that resulted from the tax cuts.

WALLACE: What about the way you'd run the White House? Would you try to have more debate? Would you try to hear more competing views?

J. MCCAIN: Obviously, I would look at the Reagan style. I would look at Teddy Roosevelt.

I'd look at some of the more modern presidents, both successful and not — and obviously, one of those — and I think Eisenhower was a good example, of having a good structured staff — but at the same time get input from outside your own circle of advisers, rely on people that I've relied on for many years to give me advice and counsel on a broad range of issues, and they don't necessarily happen to be people who either work for you or are in your inner circle.

I think when presidencies become beleaguered, they have a tendency to circle the wagons. That's a natural tendency. I think we need to get advice and counsel from a lot of smart people all over the country and the world.

WALLACE: For years you called for Don Rumsfeld to step down. This week you're calling for Alberto Gonzales to do the right thing and step down.

As president, how would you balance personal loyalty with doing what's best for the nation?

J. MCCAIN: I think there's an old Navy saying, that loyalty up breeds loyalty down. In other words, you've got to have people who are loyal to you as well as you being loyal to them.

But it can't be the most important quality. It's a very important quality, but you also have to expect a certain level of performance that's neither embarrassing to you, embarrassing to the American people and, most importantly, a betrayal of the standards that we expect of public servants.

WALLACE: How would you fight the War on Terror differently than it's being fought now?

J. MCCAIN: I would probably announce the closing of Guantanamo Bay. I would move those detainees to Fort Leavenworth. I would announce we will not torture anyone.

I would announce that climate change is a big issue, because we've got some image problems in the world. I think that we've got to understand — diplomatic, intelligence-wise.

Clearly, in the area of, quote, "propaganda," in the area of the war of ideas, we are not winning as much as — well, in some ways we are behind.

Al-Jazeera and others maybe, in the view of some — my view — may sometimes do a better job than we are.

At the end of the day, it's how people make up their minds as to whether they want to embrace our values, our standards, our ideals, or whether they want to go the path of radical Islamic extremism, which is an affront to everything we stand for and believe in.

WALLACE: Senator, you talked about torture. Former CIA Director Tenet now says that the intelligence that they got from harsh interrogation techniques against some of these big Al Qaida types, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — the intelligence they got from them using, reportedly, things like water-boarding, extreme temperatures, was more valuable than all the other CIA and FBI programs.

Were you wrong? I mean, this is the CIA, former CIA director, saying this. Were you wrong to limit what CIA interrogators could do?

J. MCCAIN: A man I admire more than anyone else, General Jack Vessey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, battlefield commission, told me once — he said, "John, any intelligence information we might gain through the use of torture could never, ever counterbalance the image that it does — the damage that it does to our image in the world."

I agree with him. Look at the war in Algeria. Look, the fact is if you torture someone, they're going to tell you anything they think you want to know. It is an affront to everything we stand for and believe in.

It's interesting to me that every retired military officer, whether it be Colin Powell or whether it be former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — everybody who's been in war doesn't want to torture people and think that it's the wrong thing to do. And history shows that.

We cannot torture people and maintain our moral superiority in the world.

WALLACE: But when...

J. MCCAIN: And that's a fact.

WALLACE: But when George Tenet says...

J. MCCAIN: I don't care what George Tenet says. I know what's right. I know what's morally right as far as America's behavior.

WALLACE: But if I may, sir...

J. MCCAIN: Yes, sir.

WALLACE: ... when George Tenet says we saved live through some of these techniques...

J. MCCAIN: I don't accept it. I don't accept that fundamental thesis, because it's never worked throughout history.

And so again, I know this for a fact, and anyone who's had experience with this, I think, that's — well, the people I respect will tell you that if you inflect enough physical pain on someone, they will tell you anything they think you want to know in order to relieve that pain.

That's just a fundamental fact. And we've gotten a huge amount of misinformation as well as other information from these techniques.

WALLACE: The other great issue facing the next president is going to be Social Security and Medicare, and what to do about these entitlements as we baby boomers begin to retire.

In your announcement, you said that no area, quote, "is the object of more political posturing," and that we have to make, quote, "tough choices."

So let me ask you about some tough choices. As part of a compromise to keep Social Security from going bankrupt, would you be willing to cut benefits? Would you be willing to increase the age for eligibility?

J. MCCAIN: Before we get into any of those specifics, you have to know that anyone who gets out front on this issue without sitting down and negotiating with everything on the table will get nowhere.

And so I will do what Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did. I will sit down with the Democrats. We will look at the options on the table. We'll call in the smartest people that we can find, and we'll reach an agreement.

If I take a position on any of those issues right now, one, it doesn't work. And second of all, it's got to be the product of bipartisan negotiations where people sit down across a table from one another.

WALLACE: Back in 2005, you said you could support an increase in Social Security taxes as part of a compromise. Do you stand by that?

J. MCCAIN: No, and I don't ever recall saying that.

WALLACE: 2005, you were asked — Lindsey Graham had an idea, and you said, "Well, as part of a compromise..."

J. MCCAIN: Oh. Well, I mean, as part of a compromise, if you come up with a benefit, I can accept almost anything, but it's got to be part of a compromise.

Am I for raising anybody's taxes? No, I am not. I am unalterably opposed to doing so. But we have to save it, and come together the way that Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan did.

I will not support any specific remedy, no matter what I said in 2005, and I believe you're taking that quote out of context, because I never said it before.

WALLACE: Well, we'll take a look.

J. MCCAIN: All right. We'll be glad to take a look. But the fact is that we have to sit down together and make choices.

And I don't think — and I want to right now tell you I will not support a tax increase.

WALLACE: That's off the table.

J. MCCAIN: I don't see how it would be — it's off the table, certainly, now.

WALLACE: You have an 82 percent lifetime rating for the American Conservative Union. And yet one of the things that always surprises me whenever we have you on is I get e-mail from conservatives who say you're a RINO.

Do you know what that means?

J. MCCAIN: Sure.

WALLACE: Republican in name only.

J. MCCAIN: Sure.

WALLACE: So let's talk about some of the conservative gripes. First of all, immigration. Last year, you sponsored a bill with Ted Kennedy that included a guest worker program and a path to earned citizenship. Do you still support McCain-Kennedy?

J. MCCAIN: I support many of the concepts in it. It didn't pass. The legislation didn't pass. So we've been sitting down and doing intensive negotiations with the president, with other conservative Republicans and Senator Kennedy to come up with something that will.

I think that it certainly is going to be a comprehensive proposal. And it certainly will be border enforcement as the first and foremost priority.

WALLACE: Border enforcement before the other parts of the package.

J. MCCAIN: Not before, but certainly there has to be the assurance that all necessary measures are being taken in order to secure our border. Americans deserve that.

Americans deserve border security, and we can't ignore that aspect of it. Our borders are broken. I think we all know that.

WALLACE: Another beef that conservatives have you, I don't have to tell you, is McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform. They say it's an assault on free speech, especially by conservative advocates.

When you see candidates spending more money — or raising more money than ever, spending more money than ever, when you see soft money that's now banned from going to the parties instead going to these so-called 527s, which are even less accountable than the parties were, can you honestly say that McCain-Feingold is working?

J. MCCAIN: We've strengthened the parties. There's millions more small donors. We have taken soft money, which was rampant in Washington, out of the game. The 527s are a violation of the '74 law. The 527s are clearly illegal.

It's not a problem with law. It's a problem with the Federal Election Commission who will not enforce the law. So, yeah, we made significant progress, absolutely, and I'm proud of a lot of the results of this.

I lived in the environment where a powerful committee chairman would call up a trial lawyer, a union leader or a corporate head and say, "I need a check for seven figures from you, and by the way, your bill is up before my committee next week."

That was routine operation in Washington, and we're still seeing manifestations of this kind of corruption.

WALLACE: That's what I was going to say. It sort of feels like in some form, maybe not directly, but it's still happening.

J. MCCAIN: Oh, yeah. We're certainly seeing it, and it's terrible. And it's really awful. I mean, we have members of Congress in jail and we have others who are under investigation.

WALLACE: In some respects, I sometimes was thinking, as I was preparing for this, you can't win.

They not only say that you're not sufficiently conservative, but they also hit you when you stray from the farm. They say that if you come back that you're flip-flopping. Can I just ask you a question about that?

J. MCCAIN: First of all, I don't know who you're talking to, to start with.

WALLACE: I'll give you a name.

J. MCCAIN: OK. OK. I mean, I — wait a minute. I'm sure that there are people who live inside the Beltway who really resent — for example, I have town hall meetings all the time.

Outside of Washington, I never have anybody stand up and talk about McCain-Feingold. There's nobody who ever does. They want health insurance. They want Social Security reform. They want their taxes cut. They want the budget balanced.

Those are the issues that average citizens and average Republicans are interested in. And the fact is — and I'm pleased with the support that I have all over the country from rank and file Republicans who are supporting me, who believe in me, who believe the security of this nation is one of our highest priorities and think I'm best equipped to handle it. And I'm proud of that.

Now, you can give me names of Republicans who either disagree with me or want to criticize me, and that's fine. But I'm proud of the base of strength and support that I've had for many, many years, especially from the veterans and men and women who are serving in the military. I'm very proud of it.

WALLACE: Governor Romney, Mitt Romney, outside the Beltway, but obviously an opponent of yours, says that you flipped — said it today, you've flipped on taxes, you've flipped on ethanol, you've flipped on Roe vs. Wade.

First of all, how do you feel about being called a flip-flopper by Mitt Romney?

J. MCCAIN: Well, look, I'm not going to respond to that. I'm simply not going to respond to it. I'm not into that now and I won't respond to it.

My record is very clear. It's very consistent. It's very conservative. If you look at the National Taxpayers Union, Citizens Against Government Waste and other organizations that grade these things, I'm very proud of my record.

WALLACE: You were one of two Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts in 2001, one of three Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts two years later.

At that time, you said that they were fiscally reckless and that they skewed — they favored the rich. Now you say you would not allow the tax cuts to expire. Is that a flip-flop?

J. MCCAIN: No, because it would have the effect of a tax increase, and I don't support tax increases.

The fact is that in 2000 I had a proposal that restrained spending. I voted against those tax cuts because there was no restraint of spending, and spending lurched out of control completely.

If we had adopted my proposals for tax cuts, which were huge, we would be talking about further tax cuts today, not out of control and rampant spending in Washington.



WALLACE: ... President McCain, no new taxes.

J. MCCAIN: Of course not. I've never supported tax increases. I don't support them now.

WALLACE: And that's a pledge that you would make over your four years.

J. MCCAIN: I don't take pledges. The fact is my record is very clear of opposition to tax increases. I oppose tax increases. I don't take pledges.


WALLACE: By the way, we checked our research on what Senator McCain said back in 2005 about raising the income cap on Social Security taxes.

He was asked, "Could you support that as part of a compromise?" His answer, "As part of a compromise, I could."

Up next, we'll continue our interview with the senator and be joined by his wife, Cindy. We'll discus his age and the media and whether McCain feels he has one last mission to serve his country.

Back in a moment.



WALLACE: And we're back now with senator John McCain, and I'm delighted to say we're also joined by his wife, Cindy McCain.

Mrs. McCain, welcome also to "Fox News Sunday."

C. MCCAIN: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

WALLACE: Mrs. McCain, when it comes to social issues like abortion, like gay rights, like gun control, I don't think there's any question that your husband has a longer, more consistent record than any of the other frontrunners in the race, certainly more than Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney.

And yet it seems that there are some conservatives out there who are willing to cut them some slack that they're not willing to cut your husband. How do you explain that?

C. MCCAIN: It's politics. My husband has a very consistent record on all of these. He's been consistent for the entire time he's been in Congress, dating back to 1982.

I just think it's just a matter of trying to stage up what their own issues and own — and their own ideals are about what they're doing.

My husband's very consistent. He's very straight talking. He's been very, very forward with everything. And you know where he stands on everything. So I just think it's politics.

WALLACE: Do you ever feel there are some old grudges there that there's nothing that either of you can say to heal?

C. MCCAIN: I have no idea. I mean, certainly not on our part. I can't imagine anyone else would have grudges.

WALLACE: Oh, they have them in politics.

Senator McCain, you've always been comfortable running as a maverick. How did you pull off the trick of going from frontrunner to underdog in three months?

J. MCCAIN: I don't know. It wasn't easy, I'm sure. I will leave that to many others to — but I'm very happy with where we are.

We have very strong political strength and a political apparatus in the early states. We're leading here in South Carolina. I'm very happy and comfortable where we are.

WALLACE: Mrs. McCain, I sometimes get the sense that your husband is not always comfortable being the establishment candidate. Is he happier — is he more comfortable running as an underdog?

C. MCCAIN: You know, John just runs. When he runs, he runs as who he is and where he's at. I've never, ever seen him pursue himself as anything other than what he is.

He doesn't look at himself as a maverick, doesn't look at himself as a frontrunner. He's just running to let everyone know what he stands for and that he would be a good president.

WALLACE: Let me ask you, Senator, though, about the fundraising, and not to say that it's that important, but it's a metric. It's something that we...

J. MCCAIN: No, it's very important.

WALLACE: It's something we can measure.

J. MCCAIN: Sure.

WALLACE: You said after the numbers came out that you didn't focus on it. And yet, when we looked at your records, you had spent more on fundraising consultants, for instance, than Mitt Romney, who had raised $8 million more. So explain what...

J. MCCAIN: I basically said I didn't do a very good job at it. That's all. That was my primary reason. I didn't do a very good job. I'll do better, and we're working hard at it.

WALLACE: But I guess what I'm asking is if you spent all that money on the consultants, why then...

J. MCCAIN: It was obviously a mistake.

WALLACE: Bad consultants?

J. MCCAIN: No, I mean, it was my — it's all my fault and my responsibility. We're going to do better, working hard at it. We're setting up a lot of efforts to raise money, and I think we'll do better in the next quarter.

WALLACE: For all the slippage in the polls and for these disappointing numbers in fundraising, when I talk to your top campaign officials, they seem almost serene that when people get to know your top competitors, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, that you're going to be just fine.

How would you compare yourself? I mean, it is a comparison. How would you compare yourself as a conservative, your credentials, to Giuliani and Romney?

J. MCCAIN: Well, I'm not comparing myself. I'm running on my own campaign, my own vision, my own experience, background, leadership, record. And I believe I can articulate that, and I think that I can do well, and I'm optimistic.

Look, I've been in a number of campaigns, and you've observed a lot of campaigns. There's ups and there's downs, and there's high points and low points, and I think we'll be fine.

The key to it is realize where you make mistakes, correct those mistakes, and move forward. And we've made some. But I'm also very happy with a lot of the support and a lot of the things we've got going for us.

WALLACE: Let's talk about age. If elected...

J. MCCAIN: Do we have to?

WALLACE: It seems to be an issue.

J. MCCAIN: Sure.

WALLACE: If elected, you would be 72 years old on inauguration day, which is the oldest any first-time president.

J. MCCAIN: Sure.

WALLACE: I want you both to answer the question.

And why don't we start with you, Senator McCain? How do you answer the comment I hear from a number of people, "I like him, I respect him, I may have voted for him in 2000, he's just too old?"

J. MCCAIN: Well, I think, again, watch the campaign. Watch my energy level. Watch how I can articulate. As I said, I'm not the youngest, but this situation that we're in now in this struggle against radical Islamic fundamentalism requires a steady hand at the tiller.

I have the experience. I've been in war. I know both war and peace. I know the face of evil. I'm ready to serve. And I hope that that argument will convince people that right now, there's no room for on-the-job training or somebody who doesn't have the experience and knowledge that I have.

WALLACE: Mrs. McCain?

CINDY MCCAIN: I would challenge anybody to keep up with him. I mean, he is 70 going on 40. I'm not kidding. He hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim with our son this summer. Age is not a factor here.

WALLACE: Judgment may be a factor.

C. MCCAIN: I have a hard time keeping up with him. I don't think age is even a factor in this at all, because what you're — what I see and what I want personally in a president is someone that not only understands the issues but is energetic and likes what he's doing and wants to be there, and that is my husband through and through.

J. MCCAIN: I think I ought to say, in the interest of full disclosure and straight talk, that hiking rim to rim of the Grand Canyon almost killed me.

WALLACE: It's a matter of judgment, not age.

J. MCCAIN: It was a lot of fun. It was great fun.

WALLACE: Would your age factor at all into your choice of a running mate?

J. MCCAIN: No, I don't think so. I think the key to the running mate is who's best to take over your duties if necessary, so — but I don't — no, I think it — I don't think it would be that much of a factor.

WALLACE: Would you consider promising to serve only one term if elected?

J. MCCAIN: I don't think that that's such a good idea because of the lame duck aspects of it.

I think the right thing to do is see how you're doing, see how the country's doing, see if you're still capable of serving when you make a decision like that, and that can only be, I think, after you've been in office for a while.

WALLACE: The other concern I hear — and I will agree, this one's totally from Washington insiders, from inside the Beltway — is about your temperament.

Some of your fellow senators talk about experiencing a McCain moment, when you jump down their throats, or you get testy with critics.

One, how do you plead? And two, would that be a problem for a president?

J. MCCAIN: You know, that routine was tried very hard in 2000. There were even editorials written that...

WALLACE: Well, I'm not saying you went crazy when you were...

J. MCCAIN: I mean, it's simply not true. I mean, it's simply not true. I mean, do I get angry at corruption when I see it? Sure. Do I get angry when I see this pork barrel spending? Of course.

Do I get angry when I see people not acting up to standards that the American people expect us to do? Of course. Do I have, quote, "temper tantrums?" No, I don't. And yet if I lose my capacity for anger, then I've lost my capacity to serve.

WALLACE: We talked earlier about problems you have with some conservatives, and one of the problems that they said about you is that you were too cozy, too friendly with the big media.

Now that you're supporting the war in Iraq, you seem to have taken care of that problem.

J. MCCAIN: Yeah, I don't think they have to worry about that much anymore.

WALLACE: Right. But I wanted to ask both of you this question. What have you both learned about the mainstream media?

J. MCCAIN: Ninety-nine point six percent of the media that I've dealt with are professional journalists, and they are professional journalists first and then their views about whatever issue or whatever the personal affection or lack of they might have for the candidate is second.

And so I have no doubt about the professionalism of the journalistic corps no matter where they are in the spectrum, and I think anything less you'd have to prove a case.

So do I like sometimes what I read that's written about me? Of course not. Can I get angry about it? Of course not. You've got to do the best you can. We're doing the best we can. We're happy with where we are. We're happy with what we're doing.

It's exhilarating to run for president of the United States, and a very rare opportunity. And I'm proud of every single day.

WALLACE: Mrs. McCain, do you ever feel that if he's knocking his own party, he's a truth-talking maverick, and if he's supporting his own party, he's something else?

C. MCCAIN: All I know is what I hear and what I hope he can do and will always continue to do is tell the truth and be straight talking about it.

I enjoy what he does and I like hearing the truth and hearing straight talk. I don't always agree with him, but I do like to hear it.

WALLACE: Do you want to tell us one thing you didn't agree on?

C. MCCAIN: No. But really, I think it's important for the American people to see someone straight-talk.

WALLACE: Finally, one thing that I was surprised to learn about both of you is that you are — and maybe I'm wrong about this, too — superstitious. I'm told that you have lucky suits. I'm told, Senator, you have a lucky watch.

But after everything you've been through, Senator, you've also been quoted as saying that you feel you're one of the luckiest people on earth and that you feel a certain — not to get highfalutin about it — a sense of destiny.

Do you feel you have one final mission to serve this country?

J. MCCAIN: No. I do feel that — and I hope I say this adequately. I think that I am here to serve. But that doesn't necessarily mean it means serve as president.

I've been blessed to be able to serve for many, many years both in the military and in public office. It's one of the great honors of my life. But it doesn't mean that I was meant to be president.

It just means that whatever time I have left, I would be of service to the country. And I am grateful, incredibly grateful, that I've had the opportunity.

And if it stops tomorrow, I will look back at an imperfect person, but one who always tried to serve.

WALLACE: Senator McCain, Mrs. McCain, thank you both so much for talking with us.

C. MCCAIN: Thank you.