Republican presidential nominee John McCain says it is vital that his Senate colleagues pass a revised version of the Wall Street bailout bill on Wednesday, warning that the U.S. is in its most severe financial crisis ever.
McCain tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that he is "guardedly optimistic" that the measure will pass in Wednesday night's Senate vote. "The situation really requires us to act," he says.
McCain says that the Senate has made improvements to the financial rescue package since the House rejected a version of the measure on Monday.
"I think we've made improvements to the bill in a variety of ways, including the amount of money we will pledge upfront, to better oversight, to allowing more options for insurance," he says. "I think the original version has been improved. But now, we can't let perfect be the enemy of the good."
One day before the vice presidential debate, McCain extolled his faith in running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and her knowledge of foreign policy.
Palin is a relative political novice, and questions about her readiness to step in as commander in chief if necessary have intensified in the wake of an interview with Katie Couric of CBS News that was roundly criticized. Some conservative pundits have even suggested that Palin should step down. But McCain defended his VP choice.
"I've turned to her for advice many times in the past," McCain says. "I can't imagine turning to Sen. [Barack] Obama or [Sen. Joseph] Biden because they've been wrong. They were wrong about Iraq. They were wrong about Russia."
McCain specifically praised Palin's knowledge of energy issues, as well as her oversight of the natural resources of Alaska and her experience running that state's government.
Below is the full transcript of the interview.
STEVE INSKEEP: You've made it clear you generally support the financial bailout that the Senate is likely to vote on tonight. Do you believe that it is essential to pass something immediately — this week — to save the economy?
JOHN MCCAIN: I don't know if I would put it in that draconian terms, but I certainly think it's vital. I think that we are in the most severe fiscal crisis of our lifetime. I think we need to act. I think that we've made improvements to the bill in a variety of ways, including reducing the amount of money that we will pledge upfront to better oversight, to allowing more options of insurance, and an emphasis on loans, more transparency. I think that the original version has been improved, but now we can't let perfect be the enemy of the good, and move forward because I think the situation really requires us to act. And I am very pleased to note that we are coming back tonight, as you know, and I'm sure we will get a very large vote in the Senate. I've talked to a number of my colleagues in the House, and I am guardedly optimistic.
Well, let me ask you about your colleagues —
[They're] sometimes unpredictable, but I've to talked to them, and I have some guarded confidence we'll get this done.
Let me ask you about your colleagues in the House who defeated this on Monday. Democrats voted "no" in large numbers. Republicans, as you know, voted "no" in even larger numbers. Many had serious concerns about the future ramifications of this. What are you saying to your fellow Republicans who see this as basically economic socialism?
Well, I understand that fiscal conservatives, or those on the most fiscal conservative side, have the most concerns about it. One of the things I said to them, that when there is a crisis, that government has to stand in. We did that — step in. We did that in the savings and loan crisis, when we set up the Resolution Trust Corp. and basically bought up bad assets —
Are you concerned though that some of these —
— took over bad, bad assets and then sold them at fire-sale prices, as you well know. So I've been trying to convince them that all of us — I'm a proud conservative, but there comes a time when government has to step in, and there'll be plenty of time to figure out who was at fault, and where all this started, as we know, with Fannie and Freddie, but —
If I can interrupt — forgive me, senator. Are you concerned at all, though, that some of these big government interventions in the economy are going to become permanent, as many of the interventions during the Great Depression did? They're still around, decades later.
Well, of course I worry about it, but I worry about a lot of things. I worry about whether it's going to succeed or not. I worry about the fact, how beneficial effect is this going to have on the European and Asian financial systems that are showing signs of great strain as well. I worry about a lot of things. But I also believe that this measure needs to be taken and it needs to be taken as quickly as possible.
Do you think, senator, after the last couple of dramatic weeks, that deregulation of Wall Street was still helpful to the growth of the economy? That's something that you said to 60 Minutes a couple of weeks ago — that you thought deregulation was helpful. Do you still believe so?
Well, I think it depends on what you mean by deregulation. If you mean the repeal of Glass-Steagall, yes, and so did President Clinton, who recently stated that he thought it was the right thing when he signed the bill. But if you're talking about lack of regulation and oversight, of course not. I said the market has to be reviewed and changed immediately. I called for the regulation and increased oversight of Fannie and Freddie. I've been a reformer all my life. I tried to rein in the tobacco companies. I tried to get soft money out of the system. There's no doubt that I believe strongly there's a role for government, and we have to have smart regulation. I also finally agree with [Treasury] Secretary [Henry] Paulson, who says that the present regulatory scheme is designed for decades ago, and we're now in a global financial situation that requires us to have far better oversight and merging of many of these regulatory agencies, which are presently stovepipes. I'm a Teddy Roosevelt Republican. I believe there's clearly a role for government and my record clearly indicates that.
Senator, as you know, the vice presidential debate comes on Thursday — your running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, against Joe Biden. Gov. Palin has been asked about her foreign policy qualifications and cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as one reason she's qualified. I'd like to ask you, senator, what specifically do you believe that Alaska's proximity to Russia adds to Palin's foreign policy qualifications?
Well, I think the fact that they have had certain relationships, but that's not the major she has stated, and you know that. The major reason she has stated is because she has the knowledge and background on a broad variety of issues, including probably the major challenge of America, and that's energy independence. And she has been responsible, taken on the oil companies, and we now are going to have a $40 billion natural gas pipeline. She has oversighted the natural gas and oil and natural resources of the state of Alaska and, by the way, quit when she saw corruption there. She has the world view that I have. She is very highly qualified and very knowledgeable.
Given what you've said, senator, is there an occasion where you could imagine turning to Gov. Palin for advice in a foreign policy crisis?
I've turned to her advice many times in the past. I can't imagine turning to Sen. Obama or Sen. Biden, because they've been wrong. They were wrong about Iraq, they were wrong about Russia. Sen. Biden wanted to divide Iraq into three different countries. He voted against the first Gulf War. Sen. Obama has no experience whatsoever and has been wrong in the issues that he's been involved in.
But would you turn to Gov. Palin?
I certainly wouldn't turn to them, and I already have turned to Gov. Palin, particularly on energy issues, and I've appreciated her background and knowledge on that and many other issues.
Does her energy qualification extend to the international energy market?
Of course, that's what it's all about. It extends to a broad variety of issues, from her world view of the threats that we face of radical Islamic extremism, to specific areas of the world. I'm very proud of her, and proud of the knowledge and background that she has. She's also been a governor of a state, and she has been involved in running a bureaucracy, she has been in charge of running a state, and it's not an accident that she's the most popular governor in America. I remember, in all due respect, that some people, when Ronald Reagan came out of California, said he was totally unqualified. I remember an obscure governor of the state of Arkansas that people said he was totally unqualified. This kind of thing goes on, usually in Georgetown cocktail parties.
Senator, one other thing I want to ask about. You wrote a few years ago an acclaimed memoir called Worth the Fighting For. And among other things, you talked about the 2000 presidential campaign, where it got really brutal, and how you had to struggle to do the work of politics and still keep your personal honor. And you said that you sometimes didn't meet your own high standards. You were very candid. Now that you're in the middle of this brutal general election campaign, with negative ads going back and forth, how do you balance honor and winning?
By running an honorable campaign. And I was specifically talking in my book about the Confederate flag in the state of South Carolina. Overall, I'm very proud of the campaign we ran in 2000. I'm very proud of this campaign. I'm proud of the support we have across the country. I've always put my country first, and that's my record, and I'm very proud to do that.
Is it a struggle, though, sometimes? It's been a pretty brutal campaign.
No, it's not a struggle. I know what's right. I've been around for a long time. I know what's the right thing to do.
Have you come back to your advisers at any point and said — for example, the ad that ran with your name on it saying that Barack Obama supported comprehensive sex education for primary school students, something that factcheck.org said was wrong. Have you ever gone to your staff and said, "Take that ad off. It's not right"?
It's factually correct. It's absolutely factually correct, and you can go on my Web site and you can see the exact language of the bill that Senator Obama sponsored. But the point is that if he had agreed to the town hall meetings that I asked him to do all around the country, like Jack Kennedy and Barry Goldwater had once agreed to do, the tenor of this campaign would be dramatically different. If we'd have gone around the country, and stood side-by-side before the American people and listened to their hopes and dreams and aspirations, the whole tenor of this campaign would be dramatically different. I'm proud of the campaign we are running, the ads are factually correct. And if someone named factcheck.org or anybody else doesn't agree with it, I respectfully disagree with their conclusions.
Sen. McCain, it's been great talking with you.
It's great to talk to you again. It's always fun. Thanks.