Sen. John McCain did a conference call from Michigan. What follows are some of the highlights:
“Last week, we had the all-nighter, one of those publicity stunts makes one even more cynical about the activities of Congress. I was on the floor from 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m… The fact is what was so unfortunate was that the underlying bill was the Department of Defense authorization bill, which includes authorizing the education, training, and three and a half percent pay raise for our men and women in uniform. It includes the Wounded Warrior legislation, and we know from Walter Reed scandal how badly that is needed… We argued about Iraq and then the bill was taken down. First time in forty-five years we may not pass legislation that does this, and that’s disgraceful. He [Sen. Reid, I presume] could have put the Iraq withdrawal on any other piece of legislation he wanted to, and apparently he has no plans to take it up again anytime soon… I think it’s an abrogation of our responsibilities.”
Rob Bluey began by asking the first question on my mind, McCain’s reaction to Obama’s comment during the debate last night that he would be willing to meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba in his first year as president.
McCain called it “a bit naïve… We have found that face-to-face meetings can sometimes enhance the standing and prestige of the people we’ve agreed to meet with. I think face-to-face meeting are some of the most overrated aspects of diplomacy; We all have blackberrys, we can all send messages. And if we sit down and have face-to-face meetings with Iran, What’s the first topic? Their dedication to the extinction of Israel? Their continued effort to build nuclear weapons? Their continued export of IEDs to Iraq?”
Jen Rubin asked about a comment McCain had made on an earlier conference call, about some other GOP presidential candidates “softening on Iraq.”
“I don’t pay that much attention to the other campaigns, but I do know that some weeks ago Romney suggested we have secret plan for withdrawal. It’s pretty hard to keep a secret plan a secret at the Pentagon… I’m in the arena. I’m the one who’s fighting, I’m standing for what I believe in. It’s a bit ironic, as I was greatest critic of failed strategy of Rumsfeld and Casey.”
Phil Klein asked about a comment Newt Gingrich made, predicting that McCain would drop out of the race
after collecting his matching funds.
McCain: “I’ve always respected the former speaker, but how he would have any clue about that is beyond me. Perhaps he has clairvoyance. He has no knowledge of what I’m about to do… We’re going to be fine, we’ve made adjustments. I’m going to win it the way I almost won in 2000.
When asked about taking matching funds, McCain said, “I think we’re considering all the options,but we haven’t made any decisions on matching funds.”
Skipping ahead a bit, I lobbed McCain something of a softball, asking his reaction to Obama’s comment that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.
“I don’t get the Democrats’ position of withdrawing and not having any alternative plan. Everybody asks me if the surge doesn’t work, what’s Plan B? Well, what’s Plan B if we withdraw and genocide takes place? That’s the view of most national security experts in this country and around the world. How can we advocate stopping genocide in Darfur and then let it happen in Iraq– a country where far more of our national security interests are engaged?”
“I’m proud we went to Bosnia and Kosovo. I’m embarrassed – worse than embarrassed – that we didn’t do anything in Rwanda… It’s curious logic to me to support efforts to stop genocide in one part of the world and then say okay in another part of the world.”
And then McCain went in for the kill, playing the inexperience card. “National security policy is something that requires years of study and years of involvement. You have to connect the dots. Something I have to do is help connect the dots and lay out how our withdrawal from Iraq has an effect on Iran, how it has an effect on Israel, how it may end up strengthening Hezbollah and put strains on Jordan with streams of refugees. I’ve got to do better job of laying out the geostrategic implications of leaving Iraq.”
Other bits and pieces: McCain will be giving a speech on Kelo vs. New London and property rights in the coming weeks; while he thinks Michigan and Florida may rise in importance, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina will remain the key primaries and that the candidate “who wins two out of three invariably is the nominee of the party.”