McCain Criticizes Obama in GI Bill Spar

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," May 22, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BILL HEMMER, CO-HOST: All right. Fair and balanced now, Frank Donatelli is the deputy chair of the Republican National Committee and John McCain supporter.

Frank, good evening to you. Welcome to our program.


HEMMER: Pick up the Hagee thing first - and on the screen for our viewers, let's call up this quote from Senator McCain. He said the following about the Hagee matter, "Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible. I feel I must reject his endorsement. I do not believe Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright's extreme views but let me also be clear, Reverend Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual advisor."

Has this become a distraction for your campaign and Senator McCain?

Video: Watch the interview

DONATELLI: Well, I think Senator McCain's statement, Bill, says it all, that he does not agree with these views, and that he rejects them, and that we need to get back to, I think, talking about real issues, but this is something that he felt that he needed to deal with quickly, and right now. And so he did so, and hopefully, as everyone believes, we'll get back on to a discussion of the real issues.

HEMMER: Well, Pastor Hagee calls the attacks baseless and born out of fear. So, as you mentioned, let's put it back on track now on the issues, and the issue today is the G.I. Bill. Is Senator McCain calling out the patriotism of Barack Obama when he makes statements like, "Unlike Senator Obama, my admiration, respect and deep gratitude for America's veterans are something more than a convenient campaign pledge"?

DONATELLI: No, not at all. Look, he said many times, he respects Senator Obama and he believes Senator Obama is a patriotic individual. I think what really got him ticked off, is that of all things to accuse Senator McCain of political posturing on, it's support for veterans' benefits.

For heaven's sakes, there has been no one that's been more tireless in pursuit of stronger benefits for our veterans than Senator McCain, and frankly, for somebody that's not been that engaged in the issue to make that accusation, you can understand how the senator might be a little upset about that.

HEMMER: Well, here's what Senator Obama is saying. He says, "Senator McCain thinks this bill is too generous to veterans." How do you react to something like that?

DONATELLI: Well, there's two points about that. Number one, as has been discussed, the Congressional Budget Office does say that the Webb bill would really harm retention rates, and at a time when we desperately need skilled military, that wouldn't be a good thing. And then, the second thing is that the Webb bill is just as generous to veterans with a minimal amount of service than with somebody that, say, who's been in for 20 years.

The McCain bill, the bill that McCain backs has a sliding scale. So, look, there's two ways to do this. McCain just felt like that his proposal was the better way to go, was more affordable, and it certainly wasn't political posturing.

HEMMER: It was not political, because you put down with the flag lapel and you think you have an issue there, that Senator Obama's liable on?

DONATELLI: No, again, I don't think so. It's always a question of judgment. You know, Senator Obama always has this tendency to say that an issue that he finds inconvenient is a distraction, when in reality, it's not a distraction.

You know, the comment about religion and guns being a distraction, and being done, and being accepted only because of tragic economic circumstances. He may say it's a distraction, but I think that's a legitimate issue to talk about.

HEMMER: All right. Frank Donatelli from the McCain campaign with us tonight, thank you, Frank. We'll talk again.


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