In an attempt to court primary voters, Republican Senator John McCain is reasserting his conservatism and his consistency. An Associated Press article yesterday said,

“His defense of the war in Iraq has hurt him with independents who backed his White House bid in 2000. His stands on immigration and campaign finance have raised doubts among some conservatives, still wary of his criticism of evangelical Christian leaders in the 2000 campaign…. ‘My record is very clear. It’s very consistent. It’s very conservative,’ McCain said.”

On Fox News Sunday, McCain spoke with Chris Wallace extensively about accusations of flip flops on everything from taxes to ethanol.

“WALLACE: You have an 82 percent lifetime rating for the American Conservative Union. And yet one of the things that always surprises me whenever we have you on is I get e-mail from conservatives who say you’re a RINO.

Do you know what that means?

J. MCCAIN: Sure.

WALLACE: Republican in name only….

WALLACE: You were one of two Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts in 2001, one of three Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts two years later.

At that time, you said that they were fiscally reckless and that they skewed — they favored the rich. Now you say you would not allow the tax cuts to expire. Is that a flip-flop?


J. MCCAIN: Sure.

WALLACE: So let’s talk about some of the conservative gripes. First of all, immigration. Last year, you sponsored a bill with Ted Kennedy that included a guest worker program and a path to earned citizenship. Do you still support McCain-Kennedy?

J. MCCAIN: I support many of the concepts in it. It didn’t pass. The legislation didn’t pass. So we’ve been sitting down and doing intensive negotiations with the president, with other conservative Republicans and Senator Kennedy to come up with something that will.

I think that it certainly is going to be a comprehensive proposal. And it certainly will be border enforcement as the first and foremost priority.

WALLACE: Border enforcement before the other parts of the package.

J. MCCAIN: Not before, but certainly there has to be the assurance that all necessary measures are being taken in order to secure our border. Americans deserve that.

Americans deserve border security, and we can’t ignore that aspect of it. Our borders are broken. I think we all know that.

WALLACE: Another beef that conservatives have you, I don’t have to tell you, is McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform. They say it’s an assault on free speech, especially by conservative advocates.

When you see candidates spending more money — or raising more money than ever, spending more money than ever, when you see soft money that’s now banned from going to the parties instead going to these so-called 527s, which are even less accountable than the parties were, can you honestly say that McCain-Feingold is working?

J. MCCAIN: We’ve strengthened the parties. There’s millions more small donors. We have taken soft money, which was rampant in Washington, out of the game. The 527s are a violation of the ’74 law. The 527s are clearly illegal.

It’s not a problem with law. It’s a problem with the Federal Election Commission who will not enforce the law. So, yeah, we made significant progress, absolutely, and I’m proud of a lot of the results of this.

I lived in the environment where a powerful committee chairman would call up a trial lawyer, a union leader or a corporate head and say, ‘I need a check for seven figures from you, and by the way, your bill is up before my committee next week.’

That was routine operation in Washington, and we’re still seeing manifestations of this kind of corruption.

WALLACE: That’s what I was going to say. It sort of feels like in some form, maybe not directly, but it’s still happening.

J. MCCAIN: Oh, yeah. We’re certainly seeing it, and it’s terrible. And it’s really awful. I mean, we have members of Congress in jail and we have others who are under investigation.

WALLACE: In some respects, I sometimes was thinking, as I was preparing for this, you can’t win.

They not only say that you’re not sufficiently conservative, but they also hit you when you stray from the farm. They say that if you come back that you’re flip-flopping. Can I just ask you a question about that?

J. MCCAIN: First of all, I don’t know who you’re talking to, to start with.

WALLACE: I’ll give you a name.

J. MCCAIN: OK. OK. I mean, I — wait a minute. I’m sure that there are people who live inside the Beltway who really resent — for example, I have town hall meetings all the time.

Outside of Washington, I never have anybody stand up and talk about McCain-Feingold. There’s nobody who ever does. They want health insurance. They want Social Security reform. They want their taxes cut. They want the budget balanced.

Those are the issues that average citizens and average Republicans are interested in. And the fact is — and I’m pleased with the support that I have all over the country from rank and file Republicans who are supporting me, who believe in me, who believe the security of this nation is one of our highest priorities and think I’m best equipped to handle it. And I’m proud of that.

Now, you can give me names of Republicans who either disagree with me or want to criticize me, and that’s fine. But I’m proud of the base of strength and support that I’ve had for many, many years, especially from the veterans and men and women who are serving in the military. I’m very proud of it.

WALLACE: Governor Romney, Mitt Romney, outside the Beltway, but obviously an opponent of yours, says that you flipped — said it today, you’ve flipped on taxes, you’ve flipped on ethanol, you’ve flipped on Roe vs. Wade.

First of all, how do you feel about being called a flip-flopper by Mitt Romney?

J. MCCAIN: Well, look, I’m not going to respond to that. I’m simply not going to respond to it. I’m not into that now and I won’t respond to it.

My record is very clear. It’s very consistent. It’s very conservative. If you look at the National Taxpayers Union, Citizens Against Government Waste and other organizations that grade these things, I’m very proud of my record.

WALLACE: You were one of two Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts in 2001, one of three Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts two years later.

At that time, you said that they were fiscally reckless and that they skewed — they favored the rich. Now you say you would not allow the tax cuts to expire. Is that a flip-flop?

J. MCCAIN: No, because it would have the effect of a tax increase, and I don’t support tax increases.

The fact is that in 2000 I had a proposal that restrained spending. I voted against those tax cuts because there was no restraint of spending, and spending lurched out of control completely.

If we had adopted my proposals for tax cuts, which were huge, we would be talking about further tax cuts today, not out of control and rampant spending in Washington.

WALLACE: So…

J. MCCAIN: So.

WALLACE: … President McCain, no new taxes.

J. MCCAIN: Of course not. I’ve never supported tax increases. I don’t support them now.

WALLACE: And that’s a pledge that you would make over your four years.

J. MCCAIN: I don’t take pledges. The fact is my record is very clear of opposition to tax increases. I oppose tax increases. I don’t take pledges

WALLACE: By the way, we checked our research on what Senator McCain said back in 2005 about raising the income cap on Social Security taxes.

He was asked, ‘Could you support that as part of a compromise?’ His answer, ‘As part of a compromise, I could.'”

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