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updated 6/19/2005 11:20:53 AM ET 2005-06-19T15:20:53

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This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS at (202)885-4598, Sundays: (202) 885-4200

NBC News MEET THE PRESS

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Guest: Senator John McCain, (D-Ariz.)
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and serves on the Armed Services, and Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committees.

Moderator: Tim Russert, NBC News

TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday morning: Iraq, Afghanistan, the prison at Guantanamo, stem cell research, immigration, the Supreme Court, presidential politics, and more. With us, in an exclusive interview, for the full hour, a man who ran for president in 2000, and just might try again in 2008, the senior Republican senator from Arizona, John McCain.

Senator McCain, welcome back. Let's go right to it.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R-AZ): Thank you, Tim. And, first, happy Father's Day.

MR. RUSSERT: And to you...

SEN. McCAIN: Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: ...a great day, a great day.

SEN. McCAIN: Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: Sixty percent--6-0--of Americans say that things are going badly in Iraq. Are they right?

SEN. McCAIN: No, I don't think they're exactly right. I certainly understand their frustration, and, of course, too often we've been told that--the American people have been told that we're at a turning point, whether it be the capture of Saddam Hussein, or Uday and Qusay, or the elections, what the American people should have been told, and should be told, and I believe the president is going to tell them, I think he's focusing back on Iraq, I think it's long, it's hard, it's tough. It's very tough.

And the consequences of failure are profound. And the benefits of success are incredible. And some of those benefits, such as stirrings towards democracy in the Middle East, and, perhaps, even Libya, taking down their weapons of mass destruction, and other things, are a result of our operations in Iraq. But it's tough, and it's hard. It's a hard slog, Tim. And we've made serious mistakes. And we're paying a price for those mistakes. And I would hasten to add in every conflict we make mistakes. The key is to fix it.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Joe Biden just came back, and wrote this letter to you and your other colleagues in the Senate: "I recently returned from my fifth trip to Iraq. ... What I saw and heard there from our own people with regard to the insurgency, the training of Iraqi security forces, the political transition, and the reconstruction efforts stands in stark contrast to some of the assessments coming from the Administration here in Washington."

And one specific, Senator McCain, was this comment by Vice President Cheney, "I think the level of activity that we see today, from a military standpoint, I think will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." Do you believe the insurgency is in its last throes?

SEN. McCAIN: No, but I do believe that there are some signs, which can be viewed as hopeful. More and more of the activities we're seeing are coming from foreign people, Saudis and others, who have come into the country. There is a better training and equipping program of the Iraqi military. We've got one of our best generals, General Petreus, doing that. There is now an agreement--we have to bring the Sunnis into this constitution-forming convention, and that's important. People were frustrated by the delay after the elections to the formation of a government. But, overall, I think there are some hopeful signs. But what I think we should do, Tim, is wait until we achieve the successes, then celebrate them, rather than predict them. Because too often that prediction has not proven to be true. And that kind of--that's what affects, I think, American public opinion.

I don't think Americans believe that we should cut and run out of Iraq by any stretch of the imagination. But I think they also would like to be told, in reality, what's going on and, by the way, I think part of that is it's going to be, at least, a couple more years.

MR. RUSSERT: A couple more years.

SEN. McCAIN: At least.

MR. RUSSERT: There seems to be a disconnect at several levels. The administration saying that the Iraqi security forces now number 169,000. Joe Biden, on this program, last week, said that he found that there are three battalions, 5,000 Iraqis, who could stand and fight without American support. Our only exit strategy is to have enough Iraqis who are willing to defend their country, spill their own blood, so that we can withdraw. How many security forces do you believe the Iraqis have right now that are fully capable of fighting and defending their nation?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't know the answer. I know the number is increasing. At first it was-- one of the mistakes was training them too quickly. They were not prepared in places like Mosul. They cut and ran. There have been some areas, such as Fallujah, where they performed better. They are getting better, and the training is getting better. The key to this is not how many troops, it's how many units. You know, we grade our military by unit capability. It doesn't mean that every person in that unit is fully capable. But the unit is capable. And that's what we're trying to make a transition to grading their units. Are there as many as we want? No. Are there less than, perhaps, some have been led to believe? Yes. But I believe that there has been some improvement, and that improvement gives us, at least, some hope. Because, as you say, and everybody knows, the exit strategy from Iraq is not a time or a date. The exit strategy from Iraq is clearly the Iraqis being able to take over the responsibilities and the casualties, for policing and ensuring security in their own country.

Look, nobody cares--in fact, I'm kind of glad that American troops are in South Korea. Why? Because there's no Americans in combat. So it's not a matter of time and date of withdraw. It's a matter of Iraqis being able to assume the responsibilities for the security of their own nation. And, again, I think we should tell people it's not going to be a short--I'd rather say two or three years, and be surprised a year from now, than say, "Everything's fine," and then be disappointed a year or two from now.

MR. RUSSERT: We also see in Afghanistan it looks as if the insurgency is finding new life, killing Americans and Afghanis and trying to disrupt their September election.

SEN. McCAIN: Yeah, but we've made tremendous progress in--there. These provincial reconstruction teams, NATO is there. We've got troops from all over the world, New Zealand and others, who are there. Karzai has expanded and expanded his areas of strength. Their economy is starting to return. There is an overwhelming approval of Karzai and his government. So, yeah, they're going to have tough times. That area, as we all know, on the Pakistani-Afghan border has never been controlled since the days of Alexander the Great. It has never been controlled. But--and I think with the weather improvement, it's kind of predictable.

One of the areas that is of great concern, as you know, is the continued growing of poppies. And we've got to address that. The poppy production is less than it was last year. That's the good news. The bad news is last year it was an all-time high. So I would argue that perhaps the issue of opium and heroin and the poppy production is probably as great a threat to Afghanistan as anything else.

MR. RUSSERT: We have considerable commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, deployments. These were the headlines that greeted Americans just last week. "Just over 5,000 new recruits entered Army boot camp in May. ... Early last month, the Army ... lowered its long-stated May goal to 6,700 recruits from 8,050. Compared with the original target, the Army achieved only 62.6 percent of its goal for the month [a shortfall of almost 40 percent]." What will happen if for the next year the recruitment for the volunteer Army falls 40 percent short of the goal?

SEN. McCAIN: We're in trouble. We have to understand that we need to do a couple of things. One of them is to increase the incentives for people to join the military. To some degree, this is a marketplace for a pool of young Americans, men and women. So it's very important we do that. We should consider a shorter term enlistment for some 18 months active duty, 18 months Reserve duty in return for $18,000 in educational benefits. But I think we also have to talk a lot more--a lot more--about patriotism, about national service, about the challenges that America faces throughout the world and maybe try to re-ignite some of the patriotism that America felt after September 11.

There's still the threat of terrorism, the war on terrorism out there. We need to win this conflict. We need the best of America in our military. So I think we ought to understand it's a marketplace. Increase whatever it takes to attract young men and women into the military. At the same time, talk about the need to serve and the need for all Americans to serve and provide Americans the capability to do so.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, if we don't reach our recruitment goal, we will not be able to achieve the deployments we have in Iraq and Afghanistan.

SEN. McCAIN: I agree. I totally agree with you. But we can fix it. Back in the '70s--this is not a totally good comparison--the airlines were hiring all of our military pilots. So what did we do? We raised the pay and benefits and bonuses for re-enlistment. We need to raise our incentives for young men and women to serve in the military, appeal to their patriotism but make sure that it's a very rewarding enterprise in other ways as well.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you see a return of the draft?

SEN. McCAIN: No.

MR. RUSSERT: Never?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't. No. First of all, the draft didn't work in its previous form, but second of all, I think by far the best way to go is provide ways for AmeriCorp, Peace Corps, community service, neighborhood--and give all Ameri--the biggest mistake I think we made after September 11 was not calling on Americans to serve. We shouldn't have just told them to go shopping or take a trip. We should have said, "OK. We're setting up all these organizations. We're expanding existing organizations and we're going to give you all a chance to fight as foot soldiers in the war on terror." I think we can still do that.

MR. RUSSERT: Bottom line: What should President Bush say to the country about Iraq right now

SEN. McCAIN: "It's going to be a long, hard slog. And I'm asking for your patience. And the consequences of failure are catastrophic. The benefits of success, we're already seeing in some parts of the Middle East. And we have had some success. We're now in the process of a constitution in Iraq. We have had an election that Iraqis proved, contrary to some cynics' view, that Iraqis were willing to even risk their lives in order to vote. We're forming a constitution. We will stick to the guidelines of: August 15, the constitution; October 15, ratification of it; and December 15, an election of an Iraqi government. We will stay the course and we will do whatever is necessary in order to succeed."

And that means addressing issues such as Syria, where a lot of foreign troops are coming in. If a Syria will not enforce its borders, the United States may not be required to respect Syria's borders.

MR. RUSSERT: What does that mean?

SEN. McCAIN: It means that the Syrians are serving as a conduit for a lot of foreign people coming into Iraq. And the bulk of the suicide bombers, for example, are not Iraqi citizens. And we have to put additional pressures on Syria. Syria, by the way, is not only playing in Iraq, as you know. They're still playing in Lebanon in a very, very--in a way that could be very damaging to the formation of a government in Lebanon.

MR. RUSSERT: Might that mean military action against Syria?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't think military action, but I think there's a variety of ways to put pressure on Syria.

MR. RUSSERT: Such as?

SEN. McCAIN: Such as, first of all, I'd go to the international organizations and try to get some kind of sanctions and condemnation of it. Second of all, I think that we should let the Syrians know that if there is continued passage of people, we may have to do what's necessary in order to prevent that.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Guantanamo. In October--excuse me, December of 2003, "Sen. John McCain said he is concerned about the failure to move ahead with prisoners' trials at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. ...`These cases have to be disposed of one way or another. After keeping someone two years, a decision should be made.'" That was a year and a half ago. It's now been three and a half years. Should we close it?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't think necessarily. But I think the important thing is it's not the facility of Guantanamo, it's the adjudication of the cases of the prisoners who have been held there without trial or without any adjudication of their cases. So the frustration is not the fact we have a facility at Guantanamo, although that certainly becomes symbolic. The frustration is: What are we going to do with these people?

Now, I know that some of these guys are terrible, terrible killers and the worst kind of scum of humanity. But, one, they deserve to have some adjudication of their cases. And there's a fear that if you release them that they'll go back and fight again against us. And that may have already happened. But balance that against what it's doing to our reputation throughout the world and whether it's enhancing recruiting for people to join al-Qaeda and other organizations and want to do bad things to the United States of America. I think, on balance, the argument has got to be--the weight of evidence has got to be that we've got to adjudicate these people's cases, and that means that if it means releasing some of them, you'll have to release them. Look, even Adolf Eichmann got a trial. I mean, there--we are signatories to numerous agreements on human rights, against torture, universal declaration on human rights, etc. So that means we have to do something with these people. And I hope we can move that process forward very soon.

MR. RUSSERT: Ross Perot, who's been deeply involved in the prisoner-of-war issue, and you were a prisoner of war, said this the other day: "If, in fact, we are doing things that are improper, that will give our enemy the incentive to be more brutal to any POWs they have from our military." Do you agree with that?

SEN. McCAIN: Yes, I do. I think that we will not have as high a moral ground the next time we are in a conflict and Americans become--American servicemen and women should fall prey-prisoner--become prisoners of war. And it worries me and it keeps me awake at night. It really does.

MR. RUSSERT: Your Democratic colleague Dick Durbin of Illinois set off a firestorm when he compared the actions of Americans at Guantanamo to Nazis, Soviet Gulags and Pol Pot. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that Senator Durbin should be censured by the Senate for those comments.

SEN. McCAIN: Well, I think that Senator Durbin owes not only the Senate an apology—I don't know if censure would be in order--but an apology because it does a great disservice to men and women who suffered in the gulag and in Pol Pot's killing fields. Dick Durbin should be required to read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" and I think that he would--may have a better understanding that there's no comparison whatsoever. And it does a great disservice to the majority of men and women who are serving in Guantanamo who are doing the job that they're told to do and they're doing it in a humane fashion. To tar the American servicemen and women with a brush that applies to the gulag or the killing fields is a great disservice to the men and women in the military who are serving honorably down there.

MR. RUSSERT: Should he formally apologize?

SEN. McCAIN: Well, I don't know what a formal--but he should certainly apologize.

MR. RUSSERT: Will the Senate take any action against him?

SEN. McCAIN: I predict to you that by the time this program is shown next Sunday that Mr. Durbin will have apologized.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to some domestic issues as well. Terri Schiavo, an issue that energized Congress. The president flew back from vacation to be involved in that particular case. There's now been an autopsy which indicates her brain weighs half of what was expected in a human being and she was blind. The majority leader of the Senate, Bill Frist, went on the  Senate floor, second time in 12 hours to argue that Florida doctors had erred in saying Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state. "`I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking in my office,' he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards. `She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli.'" Was that appropriate?

SEN. McCAIN: I didn't see it in the context, Tim, and I don't want to criticize Bill Frist. He obviously had very sincere feeling feelings about this issue. All of us were very emotional. We-Terri Schiavo had a loving parents and siblings that wanted to care for her for the rest of her life. I think our hearts went out to her in that situation and her family. Maybe we didn't use our brains as well as we should have. So I can't--I know that Bill Frist has denied that he "diagnosed" Terri Schiavo. I think we ought to get this issue behind us and move forward. It's an American tragedy and I hope that the next time we're presented with one of these situations we'll perhaps approach it in a more measured and reasoned fashion.

MR. RUSSERT: Would it be fair to say in hindsight Congress should not have been involved in the Terri Schiavo case?

SEN. McCAIN: I think it's easy in hindsight to make a judgment. But I do know at the time that many of us, or the overwhelming majority of us as well as the American people saw a young woman whose life was going to end, whose parents and brothers and sisters wanted to care for her. That's what I think made it so compelling. So in hindsight, perhaps we shouldn't have. At the time, I understand the emotion, all of us. Who was not moved by seeing the films of this woman, young woman?

MR. RUSSERT: And yet it turns out that she was blind.

SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to another ethical, moral, political issue, stem cell research. In 2000, John McCain and 19 other senators wrote a letter which said "Since 1996 Congress has banned federal funding for `research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed.' ...we support [this law]." You've changed your mind.

SEN. McCAIN: Yes, I have.

MR. RUSSERT: Why?

SEN. McCAIN: For a large number of reasons, ranging from getting briefed by very smart people on this issue and including discussing this with Nancy Reagan who, as you know, is a very strong advocate for stem cell research. I want to make it clear that those of us who support this do not believe that it has anything to do with human cloning and all of us are against human cloning. I look forward to the debate. It's a very complex scientific issue. But for us to throw away opportunities to cure diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and many others I think would be a mistake. I look forward to the debate. It's interesting that more than two-thirds of the American people support stem cell research.

MR. RUSSERT: There is a discussion now in legislation which would say that embryos created in fertilization clinics that are not used by the couple to have another baby could be used for stem-cell research. Others say, no, no, they should be given to other couples, so-called snowflake babies. Where do you come down on that?

SEN. McCAIN: I think that--first of all, I don't claim to be an expert. But, second of all, I think that should be up to the couples that--whose embryos they are. I think that's a decision that they should probably make.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to judicial nominations. You and 13 other senators—seven Democrats, seven Republicans--got together and said...

SEN. McCAIN: Commonly known as the Gang of 14.

MR. RUSSERT: ...Gang of 14--and said that we will not invoke the nuclear option, which would say that you no longer needed 60 votes to have filibusters--to end filibusters, and that some of these candidates the president had nominated would be voted on. You were roundly, roundly discussed, and dismissed, in some circles. Human Events had this headline: "McCain: A Sell-Out On Principles and Party." Rush Limbaugh said, "We had McCain-Feingold. This is McCain-the middle finger!" Paul Weyrich said, "[McCain can] forget about his presidential ambitions." "McCain is now dead meat." Grover Norquist, of the Americans for Tax Reform, said, "...McCain brokered the deal to betray his Republican colleagues by negotiating a private surrender to the Democrats...No Republican could expect to win the GOP nod after betraying his party's rank-and-file on one of their"--"central concerns."

SEN. McCAIN: Well, first of all, I respect their opinions, and I appreciate that--the frustration that they felt because I think that there was going to be a huge showdown of very large proportions. I believe strongly that our Founding Fathers designed the United States Senate with the purpose of protecting the rights of minority. That's why they gave two votes to Rhode Island and two votes to New York and two votes to Virginia. And that's why we have two votes for Wyoming and two for California. Second of all, Republicans in the past have filibustered nominees, judicial nominees, and they have blocked judicial nominees when President Clinton was president. They kept them from coming out of the Judiciary Committee. I think it would be very dangerous to change the rules of the Senate with just a majority vote. And we also felt--and I feel very strongly--that Americans want us to get back on to issues that are important to them. And issues that are important to them right now are energy, transportation, the economy, the climate, environmental issues. And one of the reasons why I think we are held in such low esteem by the American people is because we are probably—they don't view us as addressing their agenda.

But, getting back to that, both parties were at the edge of the precipice. We pulled back. We have now had six of the president's nominees confirmed. I believe that will set the stage for a reasonable debate on a Supreme Court nominee, which is largely what this whole situation was about. Both parties, majority of both parties in the Senate, are glad that we didn't have this confrontation. The Democrats would have had to slow down the Senate. And we wouldn't have achieved anything except appropriations bills. And Republicans might have done something that they would have been sorry for if we were ever in the minority again with a liberal Democrat president.

So I'm proud of what we did. I am pleased at the results so far, and I'm confident that because most of our colleagues are glad we diffused the situation that we--every day that goes by and every judge that's confirmed it's less likely we will have this huge confrontation again.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that if the president sends forward a nominee for Supreme Court and the Democrats don't like it and begin to filibuster, that Republicans will try to invoke the nuclear option and then filibuster with 51 votes?

SEN. McCAIN: Yeah. But, in all due respect, it's not up to 45 Democrats or 55 Republicans. It's up to the 14 that made this agreement. And I am confident, one, that the president's not going to send over somebody that would provoke a filibuster because that's not in his interest to do so. But, second of all, I believe we have set a standard of "extraordinary circumstances," that it will be clear in the minds of at least the majority of the 14 of us whether they're extraordinary circumstances.

MR. RUSSERT: Has the president told you that he wouldn't send someone over?

SEN. McCAIN: No. No. Of course not. No. But I think I know the president well enough that he has a broaden--a large number of people who are highly qualified who would not provoke a filibuster in the United States Senate.

MR. RUSSERT: November 1999, Republican presidential primary debate. The question to John McCain: "Who would be your role model for your first justice named to the Supreme Court?" John McCain: "I guess my particular role model would be Judge Scalia."

SEN. McCAIN: I think he would be frankly someone who would be approved by the Senate.

MR. RUSSERT: You do?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't believe he would be filibustered. No, I don't. There's many others that I also would strongly approve of as well.

MR. RUSSERT: Now, Justice Scalia, as you know, believes that Roe vs. Wade, which made abortion legal in this country, was incorrectly decided. Do you agree with him?

SEN. McCAIN: Yeah, I certainly do to some degree because it was based on medical knowledge and technology at the time that indicated that children are not viable at its earliest stage as they are today. So it certainly wasn't based on sound, up-to-date medical technology. We save babies every day that are premature at a very early stage. Thank God.

MR. RUSSERT: What would happen if Roe vs. Wade was overturned?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't know. I don't know what would happen because I don't think it's going to be.

MR. RUSSERT: You don't?

SEN. McCAIN: No. I don't think it is at least not any time soon given the tenor of politics in America and the courts in America.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the environment. "Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) unveiled their plan to require all U.S. power plants and industries to set mandatory targets for the reduction of industrial greenhouse gas emissions ..." global warming. Do you have the votes to pass that?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't know because it's interesting. There's--Joe and I added a nuclear component to it which has upset some of the environmental groups. We did that because we believed that with 20 percent of America's energy supply today being supplied by nuclear and that being reduced that in the state of technology we need to add that as a component. There's a kind of a thing that happens in the Senate. When an issue finally becomes really salient and risk a majority, somebody comes up with a "alternative," and there are a couple of alternatives out there that really don't reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. They do some good things, but we've got to start reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases now. And we can do that with cap and trade which is a free-market kind of process. And I believe that we will--I think there's every chance that we could get close to or a majority depending on how well people understand that the alternatives do not reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. It may reduce the rate of growth of them, but not the emissions themselves.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator, let me show you a story from Wednesday's New York Times. "Philip A. Cooney, the former White House staff member who repeatedly revised government scientific reports on global warming, will go to work for Exxon Mobil this fall. ... Mr. Cooney resigned as chief of staff for President Bush's environmental policy council...two days after documents obtained by the New York Times revealed that he had edited the reports in ways that cast doubt on the link between the emission of greenhouse gases and rising temperatures." What do you think of that?

SEN. McCAIN: I'm shocked. Shocked that such a thing should be happening. I also noted that he immediately he went back to work with ExxonMobil. Maybe he should have waited a month or two. I'm sorry this is happening. I'd like to see the administration far more involved in this issue. There's a requirement, for example, of a report on greenhouse gas emissions that are being ignored by the administration, NOAA in particular. I know that Tony Blair has made a strong case to the president, and I know that there are some stirrings with the administration to start addressing this issue and I'm glad to see that happening, but this is serious. It's real. We see in democracies crises and problems that are upon us and we need to solve them. That's the nature of a representative government. The terrible thing about climate change is that we're not going to see the effects of this for some years ahead of us although we're seeing some now in the Arctic, in the Antarctic and other manifestations of it. But the worst effects of it are down the road, and if we wait until those effects have taken place, then it's going to have serious consequences. Tony Blair said--look, suppose we act now and develop these technologies and reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases and there's no such thing as climate change, we have a cleaner world. But suppose we're right and climate change is taking place and we don't act, it's very serious consequences for our environment.

MR. RUSSERT: You gave an interview to Men's Journal. Question: "What will be Bush's legacy on the environment?" Sen. McCain: "...It's extremely low... And I'm very sorry for that." Question: "Does the influence of major corporations have something to do with that?" Sen. McCain: "...I'm not sure why there has been such great resistance in the Bush administration to do, you know, almost anything. It's terrible."

SEN. McCAIN: Well, let me clarify, if I can. First of all, I think the administration has done a lot for our national parks. I think they've done a lot in a lot of areas. I think they've had a reasonable approach to some of our more extreme environmental laws. And I think they have done some good things. On the issue of climate change, I'm very disappointed. I will tell you honestly, I am emotionally involved in the issue. And perhaps maybe I was too harsh in my comments in that interview, but I really feel very strongly about the issue. I've been to the Arctic. I've seen where the polar ice cap is melting. I've seen the effects of it. And I think we need to act. I really do. And by the way, I think it's one of the issues that causes problems between ourselves and Europeans.

MR. RUSSERT: Another issue confronting this administration: tobacco. The Justice Department head said in its legal proceedings that it would take $130 billion over 25 years to educate the American people about how to stop smoking. And then, suddenly, there was an offer made that they would settle for $10 billion. Janet Reno, the former attorney general, said that politics has crept into this decision. What do you say?

SEN. McCAIN: I say, one, I don't know enough about it. And, two, if you make that accusation, you should have some kind of proof. Would I have liked to have seen that number higher? I think so. But I don't know enough about the legal aspects of it to make a valid comment on that. But I'd like to see more. We've had--I had a bill on the issue of tobacco years ago that failed in the Senate. And then following that was this tobacco agreement, which has been largely a failure because the states have not used those moneys to support antismoking and anti-tobacco programs in most cases.

MR. RUSSERT: But the professional staff at Justice wanted to go for the $130 billion.

SEN. McCAIN: But, again, I...

MR. RUSSERT: Should the attorney general back them up and instruct his attorney to go for the $130 billion?

SEN. McCAIN: I think the attorney general probably, given the controversy, should explain why the decision was made that was made.

MR. RUSSERT: In 2002, you and John Kerry had legislation to raise gas mileage for cars and sport utility vehicles to 36 miles per gallon by 2015. You still for that?

SEN. McCAIN: I'm for it. I think we need to increase CAFE standards. I'm focusing a lot of my attention, obviously, on this bill on climate change. But we're going to be driven to it, Tim. If the price of oil stays above $50 a barrel, which every expert I know says it will, because China and India are consuming any excess oil capacity that may evolve, then we're going to see hybrid cars. We're already seeing it: hybrid cars and a lot of other innovations. And, by the way, it'd be nice to see some of those innovations come from Detroit rather than from Japan.

MR. RUSSERT: Won't bills that would raise mileage per gallon to 36 miles a gallon hurt you in the central primary in Michigan?

SEN. McCAIN: I'm sure that it would. I'm sure that a number of other things that I've done would hurt me with certain constituencies. And my opposition to ethanol has, obviously, hurt me. But you know what I've found out? That every time I've done something for what may have been influenced by political reasons, I've regretted it. Every time that I've done something that I think is right, it's turned out OK in the end. I've got to do what I think is right. And if it offends a certain political constituency, I regret it, but there's really nothing I can do about it.

MR. RUSSERT: You joined with Ted Kennedy with an immigration bill, a bill that would say, in effect, that you would pay fines of at least $2,000 to begin earning permanent residency under the most sweeping immigration reform bill in two decades, as it's been described. Your colleague from Arizona, J.D. Hayworth, said this: He "criticized the [McCain/Kennedy Immigration Reform] bill as a `bad idea not only because it creates a transparent path to amnesty, but also because it would reduce work opportunities, depress wages, lower worker protections for Americans.'" What do you say?

SEN. McCAIN: I say that I've had differences with my colleagues from Arizona from time to time. Important thing is, we have to have immigration reform. I think it's a compelling issue of the day. Last week a policeman opened a horse trailer where 80 people in Phoenix—80 people were crammed inside, including a four-month-old child. Twelve people died in the desert a few weekends ago when we had some heat. We are making American employers engage in illegal activity the way the system is today. It's broken. It's got to be fixed. And our borders have got to be secured. We have a national security issue here. More and more people from "countries of interest" are coming across our border. We have to secure our borders. They are not secure. But we're not going to secure our borders until we address the issue comprehensively, and that means matching, as the president says, willing workers with willing employers. And we have to do something about the 10 to 11 million people who are here in the United States illegally. And I don't believe you're going to take people who are here 40 or 50 years and ship them back to the country that they came from.

So there has to be an orderly process of providing workers to do jobs that Americans won't do. I'm happy to say that, working with Senator Kennedy, we've come up with a proposal which has gotten widespread support. The Chamber of Commerce is very supportive of it and certain Hispanic organizations are very supportive of it. Now, are the extremes happy about it? No. On one side, people just want amnesty. We tried that in the '80s; it didn't work. And on the other side, they think that the only answer is to tightly secure or borders. As long as there's a demand for workers, workers are going to try to get into the United States of America. I hope that we can take up the issue of immigration reform. Senator Specter said he's going to hold hearings in the Judiciary Committee. I welcome the debate. Senator Kennedy and I don't believe that this is engraved anywhere on golden tablets. But we need to have the debate and we need to act. And it is a matter of transcendent national security as well as preventing these terrible abuses that are taking place--the abuses of basic human rights that are taking place when people come here illegally and have no protections of any of our laws.

MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break. A lot more of our conversation with Senator John McCain, the Republican from Arizona, right after this.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: The political future of John McCain, after this brief station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And we're back with John McCain. Your interview, again, with Men's Journal. "`Did Kerry offer you his vice-presidential spot?' McCain: `It was never officially offered, but he certainly discussed it with me on several occasions.'"

SEN. McCAIN: True. That's true. And John Kerry is a friend of mine and will remain a friend of mine.

MR. RUSSERT: Why didn't you run with him?

SEN. McCAIN: I'm a Republican. I'm--I follow hopefully the traditions and values of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. And there was just not a compatibility there. And I believed that George Bush was far more qualified because of his leadership of this nation in the war on terror to be president of the United States. And I--that's one reason why I campaigned strongly for the president's re-election and I'm proud that he was re-elected.

MR. RUSSERT: You were also asked do you want to be president? And you said "Absolutely."

SEN. McCAIN: It's a--does anybody want to be president? I hardly know--you know, there's an old line of Mo Udall's who said that if you're a United States senator unless you're under indictment or detoxification, you automatically consider yourself a candidate for president of the United States. Of course. I know very few people in public life that would not, "like to be president." The question is not whether you'd like to be president or not. The question is do you think you can win and do you want to run? And none of those are clear to me, and that's why I'm going to wait a couple years before making any decision or setting up any organization or going through the machinations that people go through when they are going to run for president of the United States.

MR. RUSSERT: But it's clearly an option?

SEN. McCAIN: I think it's an option. But, again, I want to emphasize, I'm going to wait two years before making that decision. I want to work hard and be a good senator. I want to represent the people that just returned me to the Senate, the people of Arizona. I think it's appropriate to do that.

MR. RUSSERT: Here's your challenge, Senator, by everyone's analysis. Here's New Hampshire primary 2000. John McCain beats George Bush 49-to-30. Amongst Independents, you won 62-to-19. Bush actually beat you amongst Republicans, barely, but he did. Seventeen more primaries, the only state that you carried, the Republicans, was your home state of Arizona. How do you win the Republican nomination without winning the Republicans?

SEN. McCAIN: Well, first of all, it's hard for me to answer because I haven't thought about it. But I do know that polling numbers, if they mean anything, show me with strong support amongst all Republicans. And that support, I think, may have been gained from what I've done in the intervening years, including my support for President Bush's re-election, which I was proud to do. And so what I see is just from my traveling around the country, which I do a lot of, at the request of Republican officeholders or office seekers is a broad-based support there. But at this stage of the game, it's basically mainly name ID that people respond to these polls on and that's why we have campaigns. But that's--that would obviously be a consideration if I made the decision in a couple years.

MR. RUSSERT: It is interesting. The Washington Post put up these numbers. Hillary Clinton has an 81 percent approval among Dems; 55 percent approval amongst Independents; 20 with the GOP. You have a 59 percent approval with Democrats; 59 with Independents; and just 56 with Republicans. And what people point to--and this is an article in your hometown paper, the Arizona Republic, "At Odds With Bush. John McCain repeatedly has taken maverick positions that have put him at odds with President Bush's administration, and rankled his party's right wing. Among McCain's stances that differ from those of Bush: tax cuts...War...Domestic spending...Campaign-finance reform...Medicare...Drug importation...Stem-cell research...Environment...Patients' rights...Judicial appointments...2004 campaign," and particularly the rhetoric about John Kerry. The fact is you are different than George Bush.

SEN. McCAIN: No. No. I--the fact is that I'm different but the fact is that I have agreed with President Bush far more than I have disagreed. And on the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I've been totally in agreement and support of President Bush. So have we had some disagreements on some issues, the bulk--particularly domestic issues? Yes. But I will argue my conservative record voting with anyone's, and I will also submit that my support for President Bush has been active and very impassioned on issues that are important to the American people. And I'm particularly talking about the war on terror, the war in Iraq, national security, national defense, support of men and women in the military, fiscal discipline, a number of other issues. So I strongly disagree with any assertion that I've been more at odds with the president of the United States than I have been in agreement with him.

MR. RUSSERT: In fact, you have just hired his political consultant, Mark McKinnon, to work with you?

SEN. McCAIN: Tim, Mark McKinnon and I got to know each other during the campaign, while I campaigned for President Bush. But Mark McKinnon is a fine man. We share a passion for Pat Tillman, among other things. But I've had no hiring or anything else with Mark McKinnon. I think he's a fine man. But I have no payroll. I have no payroll.

MR. RUSSERT: But you'd welcome his help if you decided to run?

SEN. McCAIN: If I decided to run, I would welcome anyone's help, but particularly Mark McKinnon, because I think he's a very fine man.

MR. RUSSERT: And you did meet with him.

SEN. McCAIN: Yeah, but I've met with him--I had lunch with him. I mean, it's not--and I met with him on--several times in the past.

MR. RUSSERT: How about this? E.J. Dionne--"McCain May Be Bush's Ticket. And here's where Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, could be the deal-closer. Jeb Bush has said he will not run in 2008. But that does not rule him out as a vice presidential candidate. If McCain won, Jeb would be No. 2 to a president who"--would--"turn 72 on August 29, 2008, and might well serve only a single term. If McCain lost, Jeb would have enhanced national recognition for a run in 2012. If picking Jeb is the price of winning over George W., McCain will pay it."

SEN. McCAIN: I can't even respond to something like that because if I have not decided whether I want to run for president or not, how in the world could I contemplate something like--along the lines of running with the president's brother, who I happen to admire a great deal, by the way. But I'm--it's--I understand that there are slow days in the news world, and sometimes they have to be filled. I admire E.J. Dionne a lot. But I hadn't--frankly, the thought never crossed my mind until I read his article.

MR. RUSSERT: You would be 72 years old, which would make you the oldest man ever elected president to a first term. Would you consider making a pledge to serve just one term because of your age?

SEN. McCAIN: Again, I--first of all, out of hand, I would say no, because I think then you condemn yourself to lame-duck status. But, again, I have not contemplated--this is beginning to resemble the "Saturday Night Live" skit.

MR. RUSSERT: I have one of those, if you'd like to see it.

SEN. McCAIN: Yeah. Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: But let me ask you seriously about your age because, back in 2000, "`You think you'll ever run for president?' McCain: `In 2004, I expect to be campaigning for the reelection of Gov. Bush, and by the year 2008, I believe that my age would not equip me to run.'" And then you, rather humorously, said that you expect in 2008 to have your feet on the railing of the old soldier's home waiting for someone to come blow the cavalry charge. And in your book you wrote that you probably don't--you probably thought you wouldn't have the chance to run again.

SEN. McCAIN: Yeah. I--and, again, that's going to be part of the decision-making process. But my health is excellent. You have had the pleasure of meeting my 93-year-old mother. So my genes, I think, are pretty good. But that would obviously be a factor in this decision making process. There's no doubt about that.

MR. RUSSERT: How's your health?

SEN. McCAIN: Excellent. Excellent.

MR. RUSSERT: How's your cancer?

SEN. McCAIN: Fine. You know, I think most Americans may not understand that melanoma is something that, if detected, can be treated very quickly. And it's when it goes undetected--that's why every American should be wearing sunscreen when they go out in the sun this summer and don't forget to do that. Otherwise, you may pay a very heavy price when you grow older.

MR. RUSSERT: So you think you could go a couple rounds with Mike Tyson?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't know. After his performance against Mr. McBride, I think maybe I could go more than that, as long as he didn't try to break my arms.

MR. RUSSERT: Your hero, Theodore Roosevelt. Let me show you a picture of him. This is from Fargo, North Dakota, in September 1912. Mr. Roosevelt was then running as the bull moose candidate for president. He tried to win the Republican nomination; lost to Senator Taft. If John McCain ran for the presidency in the Republican primaries, carried the Independents, carried the crossovers, but didn't receive the Republican nomination, would you ever consider running as an Independent?

SEN. McCAIN: No, I don't think that that would be possible, number one. And number two is I keep emphasizing I'm of the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. I see no other reason. By the way, a new book is out on Roosevelt's post-presidency year. It's very excellent. And one of the things he was seriously thinking about was running again in 1920. So...

MR. RUSSERT: You would never run as an Independent?

SEN. McCAIN: I cannot imagine a scenario where I would because, again, I would be leaving the party that I've been a part of and loyal to and worked for for all my political life.

MR. RUSSERT: John McCain, as always, we thank you for coming here and sharing your views.

SEN. McCAIN: Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be right back after this.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: Start your day tomorrow on "Today" with Katie and Matt, then the "NBC Nightly News" with Brian Williams. That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

Happy Father's Day. And, Luke, I love being your dad.

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