Transcript of McCain on ABC’s “This Week”


APRIL 20, 2008



STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning. Welcome to the Newseum and “This
Week.” Our exclusive headliner — John McCain.

MCCAIN: I want to win this election.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Democrats say he’s out of touch.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: John McCain thinks our economy has
made great progress under George W. Bush.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: He looked at the hole that
President Bush has dug us into and says, why not more? Let’s go


STEPHANOPOULOS: Is his new plan the answer for an ailing


MCCAIN: It will not be enough simply to dust off the economic
policies of four, eight or 28 years ago. We have our own work to do.




OBAMA: This is the kind of manufactured issue that our politics
has become obsessed with.

CLINTON: This is a legitimate area, as everything is when we run
for office, for people to be exploring and trying to find answers.


STEPHANOPOULOS: The debate debate. That and the rest of the
week’s politics on our roundtable, with George Will, Sam Donaldson,
and Cokie Roberts.

And, as always, the Sunday Funnies.


DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: It was so nice here in New York
City that Barack Obama could not find anyone who was bitter.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello again and welcome to our new home. As you
can see, we’re right here on historic Pennsylvania Avenue, the Capitol
is just behind us there, and a lot of thunderstorms out there as well
this morning, but we are thrilled to be here and to welcome our first
guest, Senator John McCain. Welcome, Senator.

MCCAIN: Thank you. I understand in HD for the first time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In HD. We’ve all got to…


STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re looking great.

Let’s begin with the headlines this morning. Washington Post
this morning, huge front-page story, “John McCain: A Question of
Temperament.” They talk to a lot of your former colleagues and
associates about your temper. Many say it’s not a problem anymore.
Others say you’ve got it under control. But look at what a former
colleague of yours, Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, said. He
said, “John McCain’s temper would place this country at risk in
international affairs and the world perhaps in danger. In my mind, it
should disqualify him.” A Republican. You served with him.

MCCAIN: Yes, I served with him, and had significant differences
on several issues. But the point is, look, those — many — all —
the majority of those stories 15, 20, 25 years ago. The point is that
I feel passionately about issues. I work across the aisle. I’ve been
successful in getting legislation done. But the important thing is
that, do I get angry from time to time, when I’m investigating Mr.
Abramoff and find out they ripped off Indian tribes? When I see
bridges to nowhere? And you know what, the American people are angry,
too. They want change. They want action. And they’re fed up and
they’re angry with the way things have been going here in Washington.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you conceded in your own memoir in 2002 that
your temper had been a problem. How can you assure voters that it’s
under control?

MCCAIN: Again, look at my record. Look at my conduct on the
campaign. Look at — I mean, look, I am very happy to be a passionate
man. I love this country. I love what we stand for and believe in,
and many times I deal passionately when I find things that are not in
the best interests of the American people. And so, look, 20, 25 years
ago, 15 years ago, that’s fine, and those stories here are either
totally untrue or grossly exaggerated.

One thing I’ve learned over time is that stories get better and
better over time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of Americans angry right now about the


STEPHANOPOULOS: And on Friday, you conceded that Americans are
not better off than they were eight years ago, but the Democrats are
launching an ad campaign this week where they’re going to try to pin
some comments you made during the primary. Take a look.

MCCAIN: I think you could argue that Americans overall are
better off because we have had a pretty good, prosperous time, with
low unemployment, low inflation. A lot of good things have happened,
a lot of jobs have been created. I think we are better off overall.

UNKNOWN: Do you feel better off?


STEPHANOPOULOS: The theme is going to be, and you know it,
you’re out of touch, you just don’t get it. How do you respond?

MCCAIN: Well, I have an economic plan. It’s good. It’s strong.
Things have gotten worse in the last several months, as we all know,
in our economy. Americans are struggling. American families are
sitting around the kitchen table today trying to figure out how
they’re going to keep their home, keep their job. Times are very,
very tough. And the worst thing you can do, the worst thing you can
do is raise taxes. Both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama want to
raise taxes. That’s out of touch. That’s out of touch.

Senator Obama says that he doesn’t want to raise taxes on anybody
over — making over $200,000 a year, yet he wants to nearly double the
capital gains tax. Nearly double it, which 100 million Americans have
investments in — mutual funds, 401(k)s — policemen, firemen, nurses.
He wants to increase their taxes.

MCCAIN: And he obviously doesn’t understand the economy, because
history shows every time you have cut capital gains taxes, revenues
have increased, going back to Jack Kennedy. So out of touch? Yes,
they are out of touch when they want to raise taxes at the worst
possible time, when we’re in a recession.

We’re going to cut taxes. We’re going to reduce spending. We’re
going to put a freeze on discretionary spending. We’re going to make
wealthy people pay for their own prescription drugs. We’re going to
scrub every institution of government and put them out of business…

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you just mentioned your plan to have
wealthy people means-tested, increase their Medicare premiums.


STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s going to hit people, individuals earning
about $84,000 a year.

MCCAIN: $160,000.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Couples earning $160,000. How is that
different, that premium increase different from a tax increase?

MCCAIN: All it does it say that people are going to pay just as
they do in the other parts of Medicare, that can afford to pay.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Will they be paying…

MCCAIN: It’s going to be an increase in their payments, sure.
Why shouldn’t we — they pay — why should we be paying for Warren
Buffett or Bill Gates or wealthy Americans who are retired, making
$160,000 a couple, not pay for their own prescription drugs? We’ve
got $1 trillion unfunded liability associated with the Medicare
prescription drug bill. $1 trillion that we’re laying on the next
generation of Americans. We don’t want to do that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your tax plan will also have a lot of benefits
for wealthy Americans.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You have about $300 billion by your own count of
tax cuts a year in your plan. Some say it could be double that, some
budget experts. But even by your own accounting, $300 billion a year.
That means your previous promise to balance the budget in your first
term, that’s gone.

MCCAIN: No, of course not. Look, I’ll find you $100 billion



STEPHANOPOULOS: … first term?

MCCAIN: We will have made a long (ph) progress towards it. Now,
if economic conditions continue to deteriorate, it’s going to be
harder, but we’re going to be on a path to a balanced budget.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But we’re not going to have a balanced budget
before you leave office in your first term?

MCCAIN: Well, that still should be a goal, but the goal — the
goal right now is to get the economy going again.

Here’s $100 billion right here for you, George. Two years in a
row, last two years, the president of the United States has signed in
a law, two big-spending, pork-barrel-laden bills worth $35 billion.
That increases the budget, the baseline of the budget. In the years
before that, $65 billion. You do away with those, there’s $100
billion right there, before you look at any agency of government.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, let’s talk about that, then.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Because you have $300 billion a year in tax
cuts, by your count, $200 billion a year in spending restraints by
your count. So I think it’s hard to see how you’re going to get…

MCCAIN: At least.

STEPHANOPOULOS: … to a balanced budget in four years. But


STEPHANOPOULOS: … let me just follow up on that. You talk
about earmarks…

MCCAIN: Could I just finish my thought? You scrub every agency
of government, is there any American that doesn’t believe that there’s
tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars that can be saved? I
saved the taxpayers $6 billion all by myself — well, with a little
help from my friends — in the $6 billion on a bogus Air Force tanker

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about that, though. You claim…

MCCAIN: There’s hundreds of billions that can be saved, and
Americans know that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you only claim $60 billion a year from your
earmark reforms. Every other…

MCCAIN: It will be $100 billion when you look at $35 billion in
the last two years and $65 billion in the years before that, and…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But sir, let me finish the point…

MCCAIN: OK, sure.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Every other estimate I’ve seen says that the
earmarks are about $18 or $20 billion a year. To get to the $60
you’re talking about — that includes an earmark like the aid to
Israel, $2 billion a year, $1 billion a year for military housing.
You’re not going to cut those.

MCCAIN: I’m going to cut at least that — look…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you cutting aid to Israel?

MCCAIN: Of course not. I’m not cutting…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you cutting military housing?

MCCAIN: No, of course not. I am cutting billions and billions
out of defense spending which are not earmarks. The $400 million ship
that they had to scrap that was supposed to cost $140 million. The
$30 billion, I believe it is, add-on for a system in the Army that’s
going up $30 billion and we still haven’t got any result from it. The
$50 million contract to some buddy of Air Force generals. I mean,
there are so many billions out there just in defense…

STEPHANOPOULOS: To hit your number, you say $160 billion in
discretionary spending. The entire non-defense discretionary budget
is $500 billion a year. That means you’re talking about a 30 percent
cut in every program. Education, veterans benefits…

MCCAIN: I’m talking about looking at every institution of

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you’re prepared to (inaudible)?

MCCAIN: I’m talking about changing the way we do business in

STEPHANOPOULOS: But are you prepared to cut 30 percent?

MCCAIN: I am here (ph) to cut hundreds of billions of dollars
out of wasteful and unnecessary spending in America, whether they be
ethanol subsidies, whether they be sugar price supports, whether they
be payments to the wealthiest farmers, whether they be the loopholes
that are out there worth I don’t know how many billions and billions
of dollars.

I guess my critics — and frankly from the tone of your question,
from the tone of your questions — think we’re going to do business as
usual in Washington. We’re not.


MCCAIN: I’m their worst nightmare. I’m their worst nightmare,
my friend.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congress has never made anything close to the
kinds of cuts that would be required…

MCCAIN: We’ve never…

STEPHANOPOULOS: (inaudible) 30 percent. So here’s my question.


STEPHANOPOULOS: If Congress does not give you the spending cuts
you say you can get, will you hold off on signing the tax cuts?

MCCAIN: No, of course not, because we want to increase people’s
taxes during a recession? And by the way, when Ronald Reagan came to
office, we did restrain spending. It’s…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not the 30 percent in non-defense discretionary.

MCCAIN: My friend, we have increased the size of government by
some 40 percent just in the last few years. By some 40 percent, by
trillions. By trillions, we have increased the size of government.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Here’s what I don’t understand…

MCCAIN: So why would you not think that if we stopped that
increase in the size of government, in the form of a $1 trillion or
so, that we can’t balance the budget?

STEPHANOPOULOS: During the campaign, you said that you voted
against President Bush’s tax cuts because the spending constraints
weren’t there.

MCCAIN: Yes. And they weren’t.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now you say you’re going to have tax cuts even
if you don’t get the spending cuts. Back in 2001, you said that tax

MCCAIN: And could I respond to that? Because if we increase
people’s taxes today, which will be a massive tax increase, it will
exacerbate the recession that we’re in, and that is a fact, a
historical fact, that when economies are rough, then you’ve got to
reduce the tax burden on people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it seems like you have had an evolving
position on tax cuts. 2001, you said the Bush tax cuts violated your
conscience. 2003, you said you opposed them because we didn’t figure
out how to pay for the war yet. 2008, you said you opposed them
because there were no spending constraints. Now you’re saying it’s
tax cuts even if the spending cuts aren’t there. Basically, no matter
what the economic problem is, you say tax cuts are the solution.

MCCAIN: Because I can change the way we do business and cut
spending. The problem — the difference of opinion that I have here
with the experts that you’re quoting is that it’s not taxes. It’s
spending that’s the problem. And when you look at the growth in the
size of government, by some 40 in the estimate of some in the last
eight years, the largest by clearly most experts — the largest
increase in the size of government, therefore the largest increase in
spending since the Great Society, then guess what? Then obviously, we
have deficits. So it’s the spending that’s the problem, in my view,
not the tax cuts.

If you don’t make these tax cuts — by the way, also, you forgot
to mention, I said the reason why I opposed those tax cuts, because
there wasn’t spending restraint. If we had done what I wanted to do,
we would be talking about more tax cuts today.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move on to health care. That could be
the biggest difference between you and the Democrats this year.
Democrats say your tax credit plan will not come close to covering
everyone, and it especially won’t help people with preexisting health
conditions. Here is Elizabeth Edwards, wife of John Edwards.


ELIZABETH EDWARDS: The truth is, a health care policy that
covers everything but cancer doesn’t exactly do me a lot of good. And
John McCain and I have something in common — neither one of us would
be covered by his health care policy.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, she went on to say that both of you are
going to be fine, because you have plenty of resources to pay for
health insurance, but for millions of Americans with preexisting
conditions, they won’t. Why not guarantee that anyone with a
preexisting condition should be able to get health care?

MCCAIN: We will, as part of our plan, have a special Medicaid
trust fund set up to help care for those people who are — who have
preexisting conditions. As you know, five chronic diseases consume 75
percent of the health care costs in America. We’re not leaving
anybody behind. But what we’re not doing is we’re not going to have a
big government takeover and mandates. They’ve tried that in other
countries. Both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton’s plans are big-
government solutions. But that’s true in everything that…

STEPHANOPOULOS: What’s wrong with government — what’s wrong
with government-run health care?

MCCAIN: And we continue to have these debates — what’s wrong
with it? Go to Canada. Go to England and you can find out what’s
wrong with it. Governments don’t make the right decisions. Families
make the right decisions.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the points Mrs. Edwards made in the Wall
Street Journal, she said that your whole life, you had government
health care. You were the son of a Naval officer, a Naval officer,
now a member of Congress. And her point is, why shouldn’t every
American be able to get the kind of health care that members of
Congress get or members of the military get?

MCCAIN: It’s a cheap shot, but I did have a period of time where
I didn’t have very good government health care. I had it from another


MCCAIN: So, look, I know what it’s like in America not to have
health care. We know that Americans are hurting there as well. We’ve
got to make health care affordable and available. The difference,
again, between myself and the Democrats, and with all due respect,
Mrs. Edwards, I want the families to make the choices. They want the
government to make the choices. That’s a fundamental difference, and
we will continue to debate that issue.

But we can provide incentives.

MCCAIN: You mentioned that it’s not enough, a $5,000 refundable
tax credit for every family in America. It’s a lot better than what
they’ve got today.

And if we can let them go across state lines, and get these
inflationary aspects of health care under control, which we can do,
then more Americans will have affordable and available health care.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your allies are signaling that patriotism’s
going to be an issue in the fall.

Here’s Karl Rove, in Gentleman’s Quarterly Magazine. He said,
“There are Democrats, particularly blue-collar Democrats, who defect
to McCain because they see McCain as a patriotic figure and they see
Obama as an elitist who’s looking down his nose at them, which he is.

Do you have any doubt that Barack Obama shares your sense of

MCCAIN: I’m sure he’s very patriotic. But his relationship with
Mr. Ayers is open to question. And that…


MCCAIN: Because if you’re going to associate and have as a
friend and serve on a board and have a guy kick off your campaign that
says he’s unrepentant, that he wished bombed more — and then, the
worst thing of all, that, I think, really indicates Senator Obama’s
attitude, is he had the incredible statement that he compared Mr.
Ayers, an unrepentant terrorist, with Senator Tom Coburn, Senator
Coburn, a physician who goes to Oklahoma on the weekends and brings
babies into life — comparing those two — I mean, that’s not —
that’s an attitude, frankly, that certainly isn’t in keeping with the
overall attitude…


STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Obama said…

MCCAIN: And it’s very insulting to a great man, a great doctor,
a great humanitarian, to compare to him with a guy who says, after
2001, I wish we had bombed more.

I had a reconciliation with the anti-war movement. One of the
great experiences of my life was to get to know and love David Ifshin.

I had a reconciliation with the Vietnamese, when we normalized

But how can you countenance someone who was engaged in bombings
which could have or did kill innocent people…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Obama says he was eight years old when
that was happening.

MCCAIN: But he became friends with him and spent time with him
while the guy was unrepentant over his activities as a member of a
terrorist organization, the Weathermen.

I don’t — and then to compare him with Dr. Tom Coburn, who
spends so much of his life bringing babies into this world — that, in
my view is really — borders out outrage.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He also pointed out that he and Mr. Ayers have a
very loose relationship. They live in the same neighborhood. There
was an organizing meeting many, many years ago, in his house. And he
says, frankly, I don’t agree with these comments that Mr. Ayers made.

MCCAIN: Doesn’t agree with them? Does he condemn them?

Would he condemn someone who says that they’re unrepentant and
wished that they had bombed more — and compare him to a doctor, one
of the great humanitarian — in my view, one of the greatest
spokespersons for the rights of the unborn in America?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you say he should condemn these comments.


STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of Senator Obama’s allies and others say
that you should condemn the comments of Reverend John Hagee, an
evangelical pastor…

MCCAIN: Oh, I do. And I did. I said, any comments that he made
about the Catholic church I strongly condemn, of course.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet you solicited and accepted his endorsement?

MCCAIN: Yes, indeed. I did. And I condemned the comments that
he made concerning the Catholic church.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you’re going to hold onto his endorsement?

Your own campaign acknowledged that you should have done a better
job of vetting Pastor Hagee.

MCCAIN: Oh, sure.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So was it a mistake to solicit and accept his

MCCAIN: Oh, probably, sure. But I admire and respect Dr.
Hagee’s leadership of the — of his church. I admire and appreciate
his advocacy for the state of Israel, the independence of the state of

I condemn remarks that are made that has anything to do which is
condemning of the Catholic church, but — so…


STEPHANOPOULOS: … no longer want his endorsement?

MCCAIN: I’m glad to have his endorsement. I condemn remarks
that are, in any way, viewed as anti-anything. But thanks for asking.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Iran.


STEPHANOPOULOS: I was talking to George Will before the program.
And he talked about this question. You say you’re not ready to go to
war with Iran.

But you also say the only thing worse than exercising the
military option would be a nuclear-armed Iran.


STEPHANOPOULOS: We’ve seen diplomacy is not working. The
Iranians are going full-speed ahead. So does that mean a vote for you
means a vote for war with Iran?

MCCAIN: Well, I think a vote means that I know how to work
together with our allies, and a league of democracies, to bring about
meaningful and impactful sanctions on the Iranians.

I’ve already had conversations with President Sarkozy. Just
recently, again, I had conversations with Prime Minister Brown. We
could get together a league of democracies. We could impact the
Iranians in a very significant way.

They’re dependent on 40 percent oil of their oil — the refined
oil — from outside their country.

MCCAIN: They’ve got a lousy economy, despite all the petro

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you think sanctions can work, still?

MCCAIN: Oh, I’m confident of it. I’m confident that meaningful
and tough sanctions can work, sure. At the end of the day…

STEPHANOPOULOS: They haven’t made any difference so far.

MCCAIN: Well, they haven’t been meaningful, because the Russians
have blocked literally everything we’ve tried to do in the Security

But a league of democracies, countries that have the values and
goals, and control so much of the world’s economy, I think that we
could be very effective.

But I also say, at the end of the day, we cannot allow the
Iranians to have a nuclear weapon, as well. But there are many
avenues, and very effective action that can be taken…


MCCAIN: … short of any military action. Go ahead.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve defined success in Iraq as a “generally
peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic state. That is a very, very
tall order. And we’ve seen how much difficulty the Iraqi leaders have
had coming together.

Doesn’t that mean that U.S. troops are being held hostage to
decisions of Iraqi leaders, under your standard?

MCCAIN: No, I don’t think so at all. And I’m very pleased at
the overall progress that’s been made since we started the surge.

I know Americans are frustrated and saddened by the sacrifice
that’s been made. I was frustrated for nearly four years as I fought
against the Rumsfeld strategy, and the president’s strategy in Iraq.

This new strategy, the tactic and the surge is working. The
Maliki government has made progress. A lot more needs to be done.
We’re going to work on some prisoner releases. We’re going to
continue to fight the battle of Mosul, where Al Qaida is still holding
In Basra, the bad news is that they’ve had very big problems in
Basra. They have regained control of the Port of Basra.

Look, there’s Shiite militias in southern Iraq that are still
very, very tough. Sadr’s people, in parts of Baghdad and Sadr City
are very tough. But, the Sunni…


STEPHANOPOULOS: He’s ready to declare war, again, he said, on
the Maliki government today.

MCCAIN: Pardon me?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Sadr said he’s ready to declare war on the
Maliki government again today.

MCCAIN: Well, Mr. Sadr has been told that, unless his militia
put down their arms, they will not take part in free and fair
elections. And that’s a unanimous view of the Maliki government,
Sunni and Shia alike.

So we’ll see what happens. But it’s long and it’s hard and it’s
tough. But American causalities are down, overall, although there has
been a very bad spike.

And this is very, very long and hard and tough. If we succeed in
Iraq, you will see a stable part of a very important part of the
world. And you will see a longstanding…

STEPHANOPOULOS: How long will that take?

MCCAIN: To what — get…

STEPHANOPOULOS: To get this success you’re talking about?

MCCAIN: And if we fail — and, you know, it’s an important part
of this equation. You set a date for withdrawal, chaos, genocide in
the region, increased Iranian influence; Al Qaida declares victory; in
some parts of the country they will be much stronger.

And we will back with further sacrifice on the part of the
American people.

How long? They key to it, as I’ve said before, is, after the war
is over — and I’ll talk about how long in a second — then, if we
want to have a long-term security arrangement with Iraq, the way that
we have with South Korea, which was a buffer against invasion from
North Korea, that will be fine.

How long? It’s not a matter of time. It’s a matter of
casualties. If we can eliminate American casualties, that’s the key
to the success. Because Americans are grieved by the loss of these
brave — of our most — sacrifice of our most precious treasure.

And if we can keep these casualties down, which means the Iraqis
are taking the lead, which, to a large degree, they are, in the battle
of Mosul, which is taking place now, then we can look back with pride
and say, look, we were able to give the Iraqi people a far, far better
life than they ever would have had under Saddam Hussein.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, sir — you know, we’re just about out
of time…

MCCAIN: I know.


STEPHANOPOULOS: The polls show that the biggest single hurdle
you’ll face in this campaign could be your age.

How do you assure voters?

First of all, should voters take that into account?

And how do you reassure them?

MCCAIN: Sure. And it was a — they took it into account in the
primary. And they saw me outcampaign my opponents and they saw the
town hall meetings and they saw the vigor.

But also, they want experience and knowledge, which leads to good
judgment. And they want action. And they know I can bring about
action now and change this government and change the course of history
and take care of our nation’s security and fix our economy.

They know that I can do that. And I’ve got the prove it to them
in the weeks and months ahead.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You look vigorous today.

Senator McCain, thank you very much.

MCCAIN: Thank you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The roundtable is next with George Will, Cokie
Roberts, and Sam Donaldson. And for more on how business leaders are
dealing with their economic and political challenges, check out our
new CEO profiles page at