John McCain on Campaign Finance

John McCain on Campaign Finance

By The Situation Room - January 21, 2010

BLITZER: Senator McCain is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, what's your reaction to this decision by the Supreme Court?

MCCAIN: Well, I was obviously disappointed. The -- and it is very complex, 116-page decision and we haven't gotten through all of it. And it leaves a lot of questions unanswered, including some that Jeffrey Toobin just raised. And, by the way, I would point out that this is -- will allow for unlimited contributions from unions, as well as corporations.

So there -- it does maintain some of the provisions that we had. It does reverse laws not just BCRA, but back to 1907.

And so there will have to be adjustments made. And I think one conclusion you could draw is that you'll see a lot more money in political campaigns in an unrestricted fashion.

BLITZER: And is that...

MCCAIN: And Americans will...

BLITZER: that...

MCCAIN: ...judge whether that's good or bad.

BLITZER: And what do you think, good or bad?

MCCAIN: Oh, I don't think it's -- it's good. I think that there should have been, obviously, I thought there should have been reasonable limits. And I hope that at least there will be more disclosure called for here. And so it's going to be a very interesting part of American politics.

BLITZER: You worked with the Republicans and Democrats, Russ Feingold, in particular, to get this to become the law of the land. You succeeded.

Listen to John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, reacting to the Supreme Court decision.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: When you look at our campaign finance system and what happened under McCain-Feingold, we pushed hundreds of millions of dollars out of the light and into the dark. That money was still being spent, it's just that nobody could see where it was coming from.


BLITZER: Does he have a point?

MCCAIN: I don't -- I don't think so. I think that there was a good deal of disclosure. There's always things that happen and money will find its way into political campaigns.

But Congressman Boehner, I say with respect, opposed the legislation to start with.

The reason why we had such support for that legislation is because of the corruption it was very obvious that the system had bred. And their -- and I'm afraid that that may again appear in American political campaigns. It's always there, but I'm afraid it may get larger.

BLITZER: Is there anything Congress can do about this?

MCCAIN: I don't -- at the first look, I don't think so. We'll have a look at it and maybe we'll have to see how this new set of rules, which is basically what the Supreme Court has decided upon, and see how it works in American political campaigns.

BLITZER: So it's going to -- and you're up for reelection this year. I guess some big corporations, labor unions, other special interests, they can come in and either support your reelection or they can oppose it. There's going to be a lot of uncertainty now, given that -- the rules of the game changing as dramatically as they did today.

MCCAIN: I guess I'd like to see Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of -- of General Electric, say I'm Jeffrey Immelt and I port this -- you know, support this message and -- or union leader, Mr. Stern, say, I'm Mr. Stern, head of the Service Employees Union, and I support this message. It will very interesting to see how that works out.

BLITZER: Any regrets about voting to confirm some of those Supreme Court justices who -- who decided today against McCain- Feingold?

MCCAIN: Oh, no. I -- I judge people on their overall record and their overall qualifications. I think that's -- you should never judge someone on a specific issue. It's on their general adherence to the Constitution of the United States.

BLITZER: Good point.

All right, Senator, I'm going to have you hold on for a moment.


BLITZER: I want to take a quick break.

We have a lot to discuss. There's been a political bombshell as a result of that election -- the special election in Massachusetts. We want to talk about that and more.

Senator McCain is staying here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll continue the interview, right after this.



MCCAIN: We've got to stop this process. We've got to stop this unsavory sausage making, Chicago-style that's been going on. And we have to sit down in open and honest negotiations with the American people and fix the health care problem, which we can do together.


BLITZER: Senator McCain yesterday on the Senate floor.

He's joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Senator, you're very passionate about this.

Do you believe the Democrats' vision of health care reform, for all practical purposes right now, is dead?

MCCAIN: I don't know, because I don't know what's going on in -- in -- again, behind closed doors here in the Capitol and in the White House. So I don't know. But I know how the American people have spoken, not just in Massachusetts by electing Scott Brown, but across this country and in my home state of Arizona.

They don't like the product and they don't like the process. They don't like another $2.5 trillion debt on the American people and they don't like this back room dealing where -- which rewards senators at the expense of other American citizens in a way that is the worst I've ever observed.

BLITZER: Because of the special gifts, if you will, for certain states... MCCAIN: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: a result of the vote?

MCCAIN: Oh, it's terrible. The Louisiana Purchase, the Corn Husker Kickback, the Florida Flimflam -- all of these special deals that were cut in order to get votes. It's unsavory and it's wrong. And the Democrats started out by excluding us from any meaningful negotiations and they ended up in a situation where they were doing special favors for votes, which the American people soundly reject, which, after the president had promised transparency.

BLITZER: I'm familiar with the Louisiana deal and the Nebraska deal.

What's the Florida flimflam?

MCCAIN: Well, there are several hundred thousand Florida enrollees in -- in certain parts of Florida -- that are in the Medicare Advantage program. Senator Nelson of Florida put in a provision that basically exempted them from any reductions, which is about a $4 billion deal.

Medicare Advantage is very popular all over America, including my state.

BLITZER: So this is the -- the legislation, as it now stands, would only be for the benefit of people in Florida, is that what you're saying?

MCCAIN: That -- that -- that particular sweetheart provision, yes.

BLITZER: Is there an opportunity now, if the president -- and he sort of signaled this -- this week, after the election in Massachusetts, that he's ready to scale back his -- his vision, at least for now, and become a little bit more practical.

Do you see the possibility of working with President Obama and the Democrats and coming up with health care reform that all of you can agree on, something, let's say, more modest?

MCCAIN: Only if we went back from the beginning. This -- this legislation, as it's crafted, cannot get the support of Republicans. We'd have to go back to the beginning and start at square one and include things like medical malpractice reform, going across state lines to get the health insurance policy of your choice -- many fundamental, common sense provisions which would reduce the cost of health care.

BLITZER: Yesterday was the first anniversary of his being president of the United States. Today is the first day after that one year anniversary.

What has impressed you most about President Obama and what has impressed you least? MCCAIN: Well, he remains an articulate, persuasive leader. He is well respected around the world and in many parts of the world. And he works very, very hard at his job. I least respect the fact that there has been a total absence of bipartisanship, which he promised the American people. There has been no change in Washington.

And, of course, because we haven't worked together, we still have the terrible unemployment situation in America, the job losses that continue and the 10 percent unemployment, which is really, really causing people to hurt all across this country.

BLITZER: He says he tried to reach out to the Republicans, but effectively they said no.

You -- you just blame him for that lack of bipartisan cooperation?

MCCAIN: There has been no instance that anyone can -- can cite where we sat down across the table, the way that I have sat across the table from Democrats for the last 20 some years, where we said, OK, let's work this out together. There's never been that.

BLITZER: Well...

MCCAIN: What they have done is they proposed legislation and then tried to pick off one or two Republicans.

BLITZER: Because he says on the issue of the -- the banks, for example, the economic recovery, the TARP money, he went to the Republicans, he urged them for some cooperation, but even on the eve -- before that meeting, John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, had issued a press release saying he was opposed. And -- and so he said they went in with a mind set that he obviously was not happy about.

MCCAIN: Well, again, if he had, along with the Democratic leadership, sat down with Republicans and the Republican leadership across the table and said, OK, what do we need to do together, I think he might have gotten a more positive response. The legislation -- whether it be the stimulus package or whether it be the Omnibus Spending Bill with 9,000 earmarks in it or this latest health care have been dictates from the majority on the percep -- on the belief that they had 60 votes and really didn't need us. I hope that that will change.

BLITZER: Has he ever called you over the past year and said, John, let's talk, let's work this out?

MCCAIN: Never.

BLITZER: Not once?


BLITZER: All right. A quick question on gay marriage, because your wife, Cindy, has now come out with a -- with a photograph saying she supports gay marriage. Your daughter has long supported gay marriage.

You -- you don't support gay marriage.

How is this working out in terms of your family life?

MCCAIN: I have long opposed gay marriage. I believe that the sanctity of marriage is between one man and one woman. And I supported Proposition 8 in California. I am privileged to have independent -- independent, spirited members of my family. It makes for a very interesting conversation around the dinner table. I respect their views, but I disagree with them.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, thanks very much for joining us.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Senator John McCain from Arizona.


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