Will McCain Bolt?

This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, June 4, 2001, was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.

BRIT HUME, HOST:  It is the week after Memorial Day, and a lot of people in Washington are still away.  The president is out of town, and the House and Senate are not in session.  The novelty of Jim Jeffords's switch to an independent aligned with the Democrats has faded, so thanks be for John McCain.  He has long been one of the city's most picturesque figures, and he has stepped with flawless timing into the latest political news void and made himself the center of attention in the capitol and the most interesting man in town once again.

And for the latest on McCain, we turn to a man widely described in recent news accounts as a, quote, "McCain loyalist," and "insider," The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, who is also, of course, a Fox News contributor.

What about this, Bill?  What about this characterization of -- you're the go-to guy for quotes on McCain, described as a "loyalist."  Is that the case?

BILL KRISTOL, THE WEEKLY STANDARD:  No.  I mean, I like John McCain.  I thought he would have been a good president, but -- I had lunch with a couple of McCain aides on Thursday, and somehow that led to a front-page story in The Washington Post Saturday.

HUME:  But I see you quoted elsewhere, as well.  I mean, do you consider yourself a "McCain loyalist"?

KRISTOL:  I consider myself a friend of his, and I think well of him, and I admire much of what he's trying to do.

HUME:  Now, let -- let's -- let's talk a little bit about what -- what you think he is trying to do at...

KRISTOL:  I think he's going to try to increase the defense budget more than the president has proposed.  He's obviously going to work hard to get his campaign finance reform package through.  He's working with Democrats a little more than I might like, in some instances, on health care and other issues.  He's a major player in the Senate, obviously.  But I guess he's having dinner with the president this week, so...

HUME:  That's -- yeah, that's...

KRISTOL:  Yeah, so all is well.

HUME:  ... just reported.

KRISTOL:  The truth is, this is -- you know, this -- there was a silly lunch we had -- not silly, it was a very nice lunch, but totally unimportant lunch with a couple of McCain aides, that led to a bizarre story in The Washington Post Saturday -- "McCain considering independent bid in 2004."  That led to the president calling McCain Saturday.  It led to this dinner invitation this week.  So everything's fine.  I regard myself as an agent of reconciliation between the president and John -- and John McCain!


KRISTOL:  If my lunch inadvertently led to this nice dinner they're going to have this week and an ability for them to work together, I've done my little bit for the country, Brit.

HUME:  Well, now -- now, what about the possibility -- I mean, it does -- it does seem to many people, myself included, that John McCain has a bit of New Hampshire primary disease that has affected a number of political figures who have gone and had that remarkable experience of either winning or doing very well in New Hampshire and having that moment that you have after that, when the entire world is at your feet.  And if it slips away from you, you kind of want to go back there and perhaps understandably.  Doesn't it seem possible to you that he would run as an independent in -- in 2004?

KRISTOL:  I think it's possible.  I don't think it's likely, but look...

HUME:  Well, what are the circumstances that would bring that...

KRISTOL:  The -- I mean, just on the New Hampshire disease -- I mean, you can call it a disease or you can say that, look, he got five million votes.  He thinks he learned something from that campaign.  And he is a sitting senator, after all.  He's entitled to advance his agenda.

HUME:  Of course.

KRISTOL:  People didn't say when Scoop Jackson lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976 -- I don't remember a lot of people saying in 1977, "Oh, Scoop Jackson shouldn't oppose Jimmy Carter's foreign policy."

HUME:  I don't remember Scoop Jackson ever winning anything.

KRISTOL:  Well, he won a couple of primaries in '76, and then he opposed one of Jimmy Carter's nominees for -- I think for the cabinet in 1977.

What -- the question was -- what was the question?

HUME:  The question was what you think would be the circumstances...


HUME:  ... under which McCain would go.

KRISTOL:  I think the only circumstances on which -- under which any independent candidacy could work -- and it's obviously a super-long shot -- would be an obviously failed Bush presidency, a congressional Democratic Party moving left, and a big opening in the center for a kind of Scoop Jackson on foreign policy, Teddy Roosevelt on domestic policy, reformist, centrist, patriotic candidate.  Obviously, McCain has some of those attributes.  I'm sure, in the back of his mind, it occasionally occurs to him that that might happen, but he knows it's a long shot.  I've never spoke about it with him.  I want to make that clear.  And to my knowledge, he has not talked about this with anyone.

HUME:  Well, some insider you turned out to be!

KRISTOL:  Yeah, no, I'm no insider!  I had lunch with a couple of his staff guys!  And The Washington Post blew this out -- a little bit out of proportion, I would say.


HUME:  Well, let's move on to talk a little bit about -- your view is that if McCain went, it would be as an independent.


HUME:  He -- there's no way he makes the crossover all the way to being a Democrat.

KRISTOL:  I don't think so.  I don't think so.

HUME:  All right.  And you don't -- and do you see him breaking ranks and joining the ranks of the independents in the Senate?

KRISTOL:  No, unless he has some -- unless something big happens.  If Bush were to veto campaign finance reform, McCain might say, "I care so much about this, I can't"...

HUME:  Well, suppose campaign finance reform...

KRISTOL:  ... "stay in the party."

HUME:  ... is blocked in the House, which could happen.

KRISTOL:  Could.  I -- look, I don't know what McCain's going to do.  I think -- as he says, I think he intends to stay a Republican, at least for now.

HUME:  All right, now, let's talk a little bit about this current situation in the Senate and -- and about the dilemma or opportunity that it affords Mr. Bush.  What's your take on all that?

KRISTOL:  I think, actually, Bush is pretty good shape, at least over the next two, three months.  Nothing's really changed in the Senate, except for the committee chairmanships.  That will slow down some of his nominees, especially judicial nominees.  But I think otherwise, the legislative situation is pretty much the same.

What I think Bush will do is this.  He's going to look at the House.  He -- they do --Republicans do control the House.  You wouldn't know that from a lot of the press coverage in the last two weeks.

HUME:  Right.

KRISTOL:  Bush can advance a couple of things in the House.  They're going to move -- they've had a meeting in the White House today to really speed up the faith-based initiative, which I think is a potentially important initiative of the president's.  This is the equalize -- level the playing field...

HUME:  Right.

KRISTOL:  ... so faith-based and community-based social service providers can have a -- can apply for federal funds and also a tax credit for contributions, et cetera.

HUME:  Now -- now that -- that has widely been thought in town -- the buzz in town is that that's in big trouble.  In your view, it is or isn't?

KRISTOL:  The buzz is wrong.  The faith-based initiative is going to move.  The White House is behind it.  I think it can get significant Democratic support in both the House and the Senate.  I think what Bush is going to try to do is get two or three things through the House in the next month or two, so he's on the offense, at least in the House, and then bring them over to the Senate and let Tom Daschle be the guy who blocks the ability of faith-based social service providers to compete on a level playing field with secular social service providers.

Look, Bush is going to have to play defense in the Senate.  There's no question about that for the next couple of months on "patients' bill of rights" and other issues.  But I think he'll play offense in the House.  He's going to compromise on a lot of things, probably more than a lot of conservatives would like.  I suspect he'll do OK over the next two or three months, though.

HUME:  Now, let's talk a little bit about the prospect of further tax cuts.  It has widely been thought, after the Democrats got control of the Senate, that there would be no way that any further tax cut could ever -- ever pass Congress.  What's your sense of that?

KRISTOL:  I would make the opposite argument.  I think there is a greater chance that further tax cuts happen this year because the Democrats now control the Senate.  Here's why.  What is Tom Daschle going to have to pass soon?  An increase in the minimum wage.  That's number one on the unions' list.  It's a classic Democratic piece of legislation.  What usually gets added to minimum wage legislation?  Some tax cuts for small business to lessen the pain, so to speak, of having to pay the increased minimum wage.

I think if the president says, "I'll take minimum wage, but I want a capital gains tax cut to get this economy going again," I think he could get a bipartisan majority for that.  And I think the odds of a capital gains tax cut this year have increased because the Democrats now control the Senate.

HUME:  Wow.  Remarkable.  Bill Kristol, great to have you.  Thanks for coming in.

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