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Transcript: Sen. John McCain discusses campaign finance reform on 'Larry King Live'


Transcript: Sen. John McCain discusses campaign finance reform on 'Larry King Live'

SCHIEFFER: Tonight: Is Senator John McCain headed for a confrontation with President George W. Bush? The Arizona Republican joins us to talk about his number-one issue: campaign-finance reform.

Then, what's the public buzz on the changing of the partisan guard in Washington? We will hear from five top radio personalities: in Los Angeles, Joan Rivers, whose long list of activities include hosting a radio talk show; in D.C., Diane Rehm of National Public Radio; also in the nation's capital, syndicated radio host Jim Bohannon; in New York, radio talk show host Bob Grant; and in Austin, Texas, radio commentator Jim Hightower.

It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Well, thanks for joining us. I'm not Larry King. I'm Bob Schieffer of CBS News. Larry is off tonight. And I'm sitting in.

The Bush administration is barely 48 hours old and the elbowing over agenda priorities is already under way. Earlier today, former presidential candidate John McCain kept his top campaign promise. He dropped the bipartisan campaign reform act of 2001 into the hopper on Capitol Hill, along with fellow Republican Thad Cochran and Democrat Russ Feingold -- Senator McCain here to talk about his legislation tonight and its chances for a speedy passage.

Senator McCain, you have put great emphasis from the start on getting this done first. Why is it so important to go first?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I would have liked to have had it done first, because we are not doing anything legislatively for two or three weeks. That has been the case with the previous incoming administrations. But that was viewed -- and I think by some appropriately -- that it might sort of be taking precedence over President Bush's agenda.

So we are willing to wait a reasonable length of time, we think, before Congress goes into its -- the Senate goes into its second vacation period sometime in March, that we could take it up and dispense with it. We are having great difficulties negotiating that with Senator Lott.

SCHIEFFER: What do you mean? Why would that be? And let's just set the stage for this, because, I mean, to be frank, a lot of people say maybe you are just trying get in George Bush's face here, that you ran against him in the campaign, that he won the campaign, that he ought to have a chance to lay out his programs first. So what do you respond to them when they say that?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, the president and I have a very cordial relationship. I'm not interested in interfering. I'm not interested in taking precedence, even. That's why we are willing to wait. I think he could get his education package up and get it to the floor. And we could go immediately after that. But I will make two points. One is that, if you really are going to change the tone in Washington, you've got to get rid of the special interests -- or reduce it.

Why is it we don't have an HMO patients's bill of rights? We really want a tax cut that doesn't have a whole bunch special deals for special interests. The tax cut is already 44,000 pages long. If you really want to change the tone and reform government, you've got to have campaign-finance reform. And finally, I believe that there are people who expect us to clean up our act. There are Americans right now who are not very enthusiastic in their support of the political process. And I think, by giving them back their government and their voice in government, we could heal some of these wounds.

SCHIEFFER: You just mentioned that you are having trouble with Senator Lott already in getting this schedule for


MCCAIN: Well, we are in negotiations. I hope that we can get an agreement. I continue to hope so. But very frankly, his counteroffers have been -- well, they started out that they want to wait until after all the appropriations bills, which would have been sometime around Christmas. And then they backed off some. But there has been -- it has been difficult.

We all know that Senator Lott in the past has not only opposed my efforts, but opposed campaign-finance reform as well. I hope we can work together. And I believe that we can. I'm meeting with President Bush on Wednesday, I believe. And I think that we can work together on this. He had a campaign-finance-reform proposal before the South Carolina primary. We agree on most issues. And I think we can agree. So I look forward to that meeting and many meetings in the future as I support President Bush and his agenda.

SCHIEFFER: What do you think the problem is with the Senator Lott? Is it that he is just dead set against any kind of overhaul of the finance laws? Is it something between the two of you? What do you think it is?

MCCAIN: You know, I'm not -- it is not clear to me. Senator Lott told me that he wants to negotiate. I want to negotiate with him as well. We are just not making the progress that I hoped that we would make. For example, they want to add other bills onto this bill: a McConnell bill, a Lott bill, another bill. I mean, that is very confusing to the issue.

There's others who say they want to bring up electoral reform. I'm all for electoral reform. But we know that to really reform the election system, we are going to have to go through a lot of hearings and get a lot of information. Campaign-finance reform is not a new issue. We've got to eliminate the soft money. And we've got to clean up this independent-campaign issue.

SCHIEFFER: Again, it is interesting. We did some calculations in our CBS News election unit. And we discovered that, to get George Bush from Austin, Texas to Washington, D.C., by our calculation, cost $446 million -- $446,870,000. He raised about $105 million in campaign contributions. Now, that is hard money that he raised. The Republican National Committee threw in $136,000. The...

MCCAIN: One-hundred and thirty-six million?

SCHIEFFER: One-hundred and thirty-six million.

MCCAIN: One-hundred and thirty-six million.

SCHIEFFER: Sixty-three million raised for the GOP convention -- for the inaugural, some $43 million. Now, some of that was soft money. Some of it was hard money. But that is a long way from Thomas Jefferson riding over on his horse, isn't it, to take the oath?

MCCAIN: Yes. For the benefit of our viewers, the hard money is the $1,000 or less. That's the contribution limits that is the law. The soft money is the unregulated money, where people have found ways around existing law to give hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars. There was a fund-raiser here in Washington in October where you could buy a ticket for $500,000. There is foreign money that has come in. There is Chinese money. You have Mr. Riady, just pled guilty and was given an $8 million fine, coincidentally, by the way, just before the administration went out.

Mr. Rich's -- who was just pardoned by the president -- wife, I'm told, according to media reports, gave $600,000 in these soft-money contribution to the Democratic National Committee. Look, this is wrong. And even whether the president's decision about Mr. Rich was entirely divorced of any campaign contributions, the appearance is terrible. But this goes on and on and on. Why is it, do you think, we don't have an HMO patients' bill of rights, prescription drugs for seniors, all these other reforms?

And the answer is because we are gripped by the special interests. And we have to break it.

SCHIEFFER: John McCain, thanks so much for coming by.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Bob. Thank you.


Monday, January 22, 2001



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