RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Next we're going to put some questions to the Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain. He's on the line from Kansas City. Senator, good morning.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): Good morning.
INSKEEP: You've made it clear that you generally support the financial bailout that the Senate is likely to vote on tonight. Can you just clarify, though, do you believe it is essential to pass something immediately this week to save the economy?
Senator MCCAIN: I don't know if I would put it in that draconian terms, but I certainly think it's vital. I think that the - 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 that the situation really requires us to act. And I'm very pleased to note that we are coming back tonight, as you know, and I'm sure we'll 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.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about your colleagues...
Senator MCCAIN: The House is sometimes unpredictable, but I've talked to them. I have some guarded confidence we'll get this done.
INSKEEP: Well, 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. And many had a serious concern about the future ramifications of this. What are you saying to your fellow Republicans who were concerned that this is basically economic socialism?
Senator MCCAIN: 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 in the - step in. And we did that in the savings and loan crisis when we set up the Resolution Trust Corporation and basically bought up bad assets.
INSKEEP: Are you concerned, though, that some of these...
Senator MCCAIN: ...took over 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 am 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...
INSKEEP: Are you - if I can interrupt for just...
Senator MCCAIN: Sorry. Sure.
INSKEEP: 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.
Senator MCCAIN: 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 that what is - how beneficial effect is this going to have on the European and Asian financial systems where - 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.
INSKEEP: We're talking with Senator John McCain. And Senator, as you know, the vice presidential debate comes on Thursday, your running mate Governor Sarah Palin against Joe Biden. Governor Palin has been asked about her foreign policy qualifications and cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as one reason she's qualified. She said it a couple of times. 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?
Senator MCCAIN: Well, I think the fact that they have had certain relationships. But that's not the major reason she has stated, and you know that. The major reason that 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.
INSKEEP: Given what you've said, Senator, is there an occasion where you could imagine turning to Governor Palin for advice in a foreign policy crisis?
Senator MCCAIN: I've turned to her advice many times in the past. I can't imagine turning to Senator Obama or Senator Biden, because they've been wrong. They were wrong about Iraq, they were wrong about Russia. Senator Biden wanted to divide Iraq into three different countries. He voted against the first Gulf War. Senator Obama has no experience whatsoever and has been wrong in the issues that he's been involved in.
INSKEEP: But would you turn to Governor Palin?
Senator MCCAIN: I certainly wouldn't turn to them, and I've turned to - I've already turned to Governor Palin, particularly on energy issues. And I've appreciated her background and knowledge on that and many other issues.
INSKEEP: Does her energy qualification extend to the international energy market?
Senator MCCAIN: Of course, 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. And I'm very proud of her, and proud of the knowledge and background that she has. And 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 because of the great - I remember when, in all due respect, that a lot of the - 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 that he was totally unqualified. So, this kind of thing goes on, usually in Georgetown cocktail parties.
INSKEEP: Senator, one other thing I want to ask about. You wrote a few years ago an acclaimed memoir, very compelling 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 to be honorable. 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?
Senator MCCAIN: 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. And...
INSKEEP: Is it a struggle, though, sometimes? It's been a pretty brutal campaign?
Senator MCCAIN: No, it's not a struggle. I know what's right. I've been around for a long time. I know what's right - the right thing to do.
INSKEEP: Have you come back to your advisers at any point and said that ad - like, 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?
Senator MCCAIN: Oh, 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 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're 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.
INSKEEP: Senator McCain, it's been great talking with you.
Senator MCCAIN: Oh, it's great to talk to you again. It's always fun. Thanks.
INSKEEP: John McCain is the Republican nominee for president. A transcript of this interview appears later at npr.org, and we have invited Senator Obama to meet us on NPR News.