Sen. McCain Speaks to On the Record

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, April 25, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Back with more on America's ties with the Saudis. Earlier, I asked Senator John McCain what he makes of the relationship.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I'm very unhappy with the relationship that we have with the Saudis. First of all, I'm very unhappy that they continue to fund the madrases that teach the destruction of western culture and civilization. I was very disappointed at visible manifestations such as a telethon to aid the families of what they call martyrs, who we all know are murderers. I am somewhat disappointed in their obstinacy concerning the problem that exists with Saddam Hussein.

And so I believe that we must make it very clear that the first obligation that the Saudis have is to condemn suicide bombers as an offense to Islam and the impediment to peace.

SUSTEREN: What about the Bush Administration, in terms of their foreign policy? Are you satisfied that they're doing exactly what you think should be done or is there some area of departure in your mind?

MCCAIN: I don't think there's anything wrong with admitting when maybe a policy or strategy has to be changed. For example, I think we recognize now that at Tora Bora, the operation Tora Bora in Afghanistan, we probably should have had troops on the ground. We fixed that. In the next operation, we did have troops on the ground. Why not say, look, we learn as we go along on these things, rather than claiming that everything is an overwhelming success.

I probably believe that we had better be very careful not to be involved with a situational ethics problem here. And what I mean by that is that if an act of terror is committed on the United States, we will go any place in the world and do whatever is necessary to stamp out that terror. If an act of terror is inflicted on Israel, then we expect them to be restrained. That's not logical and I think we have to make sure we reconcile those two positions so that we maintain credibility.

SUSTEREN: You know senator, I'm always curious when someone has served like in the Congress or served in the United States Senate for a long period of time, looking back over your career, has your ideology, has anything changed in your mind that even surprises you? How have you changed?

MCCAIN: I think that I learned a lot in my presidential campaign because I had close encounters with the American people in a way that you can own have when you conduct hundreds of town hall meetings, which was the way we conducted our campaign. I think I've become more environmentally sensitive. I think I've become more of a Theodore Roosevelt republican. I think I have perhaps understood the priorities of Americans more on issues such as a patients' bill of rights, social security, Medicare, prescription drugs for seniors, some of the issues that I had not been involved in, in the past as I had been in other issues such as national security issues.

So I hope what I have done is grown and matured as a public servant, which I hope all of us can do in our lives.

SUSTEREN: Does that sort of push you a little bit away from the Republican Party? I mean in some ways some of those ideals have been embraced by the Democratic Party in part. Does that sort of push you away from the Republican Party?

MCCAIN: What I think it has done, I think that Republicans and Democrats recognize the challenges of these issues and they just have different solutions. I don't think it's so-called pushed me away but I don't think there's any doubt and in the interest of straight talk that I've had some disagreements with some of my republican colleagues on these issues, perhaps more so since I ran for president than in the past. Although campaign finance reform, which is obviously a major departure area with my republican colleagues, I've been fighting for that issue for many, many years.

SUSTEREN: Do you think you're a maverick? Is that the way you would describe yourself?


SUSTEREN: No? Why not? Frankly, there are ways you depart from the Republican Party. I mean the campaign finance, that's the big flag. I mean but I mean in many ways you aren't towing the line in the Republican Party.

MCCAIN: Well I think, as I said, I know that I share the principles and values of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. I know that and I'm convinced of it. But I also believe that there are times when we have to do what we think is best. When I ran to represent the people of Arizona for the senate and then ran for the presidency, I didn't say look, I will always do what my party tells me. In fact, I will do what I think you want me to do and there are many times when I will do what you don't want me to do because I have to do what I think is best for my party and the country.

SUSTEREN: What change in the world would make it such that you would have no choice in your mind but to run for president in 2004?

MCCAIN: I don't envision the scenario.

SUSTEREN: There's no scenario at all?

MCCAIN: There may be a scenario but I certainly don't envision one that I can imagine at this time.

SUSTEREN: How about hypothetically? Hypothetically, is there anything that would make you think to yourself, you know, I'm going to do it again, I'm going to run?

MCCAIN: As I say, I don't envision it. I would remind you of the words of an old friend from Arizona who once said, presidential ambition is a disease that can only be cured by embalming fluid. I hope that's not true in my case.


SUSTEREN: Arizona Senator John McCain.

Click here to order the entire transcript of the April 24 edition of On the Record.

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