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Special Event

John McCain Holds Town Hall Meeting in Stockton, Calif.

Aired February 29, 2000 - 11:38 a.m. ET


KELLEY: Thanks guys, once again. And we take you on CNN, live coverage of John McCain, the senator is doing a townhall meeting at Stockton, California.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would like to also introduce a very dear and old friend of mine, a person who was an inspiration to me for many years, and remains so today, the longest held American POW in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, who hails from a different -- other side of this valley, Everett Alvarez.

Everett, where are you? Everett Alvarez.

I love Ev, and whenever I would be felling sorry for myself in prison, which was with alarming frequency, I would think about the fact that Ev had been there for about two and a half years before I was, then I would say, well, you know, I will press on because I don't have nearly as bad as Ev.

After we had been in prison for a few years, some guys were sitting around, it's terrible, we are never going to get out of here, and these guys I want the get out of here. And this guy said: Think about Ev, he's been here two or three years longer than we have. There was silence, and finally the guy said: The heck with Ev, I still want to get out of here.

One of my favorite stories about my beloved friend, and I want to thank Richard Eubanks (ph), Dave Norris and Rick Pittman (ph), who is here also.

Where is Rick? Oh, he's sick, I'm sorry to hear that. I apologize. But Dave Norris and Richard Eubanks, thank you for being here and thank you for your service. Thank you.

I want to tell you, I'm -- we've been having such very big crowds lately that it's been a little hard for us to conduct a townhall meeting, and so I'm kind of glad that we've got a not-as-large a crowd as usual because we'll be able to spend more time in what really this campaign has been all about, and that's the townhall meeting, where you get a chance to ask me questions but also make comments, give me your views, in the case of former Marines, occasional insults. I'm sure you guys can understand that.


I want to thank all of you for being here. I see that there's a couple of great Americans with copies of my book. Thank you for buying that book.

Hi, grandma. Please don't hold that book up, if you would, because I'm not trying to hype the sales of it. It's $24.95, it's available at your local bookstore or It's number six on the bestseller list in "New York Times," it will be number three next week, but I'm not trying to increase the sales of that books. Please don't think that that's what I'm here for.

But I've done a lot of book signings associated with this book. I'd like to tell you one brief story. I mentioned to you we have a 15-year-old daughter, Meghan. When I was doing book signings, I was on the Jay Leno show about four, five months ago, and I was on -- in the dressing room getting makeup on, which takes longer and longer, and Mr. Leno came in the dressing room.

And I said, oh, Mr. Leno, thank you for having me on your program, I said, because I'm going to now have a lot of appreciation from my 15-year-old daughter, Meghan; this will really impress her.

And so he had his cell phone and he called up our home, and he said, what's your phone number.

And he called up our home in Phoenix, Arizona. And my daughter Meghan answered the phone. He said, Hi, Meghan, this is Jay Leno, how are you doing?

She said, Dad, will you stop fooling around.


And so to this day she doesn't believe that she was talking to Jay Leno.

We sold the movie rights to that books. I'm happy to tell you not too long ago Sam Donaldson said to me, he said, Senator McCain, you sold the movie rights to the book.

I said, yes.

He said, who's going to play you in the movie.

I said, I want Tom Cruise, my kids want Danny DeVito.


So we're going to find out which one it is.

At these -- at these book signings, a lot of my old, fellow veterans come and a lot of them bring pictures of themselves. I've seen -- the other night I signed a thousand books at a bookstore, and Desert Storm veterans brought pictures of themselves on Iraqi tanks. Vietnam War veterans, people I served with brought cruise books from the USS Forrestal. Korean war veterans and World War II veterans. It's very touching and it's very moving to me, and I'm very pleased that so many people have accepted and understood the lesson of this book, which is three -- three men, grandfather, father and son, who were flawed individuals who found virtue in serving our country's cause, and that's really what that book is all about. And we're appreciating all of our veterans, but I'm happy to note that we are especially appreciating our World War II veterans: Tom Brokaw in his book, "The Greatest Generation," which was number one on the bestseller list, the movie "Saving Private Ryan"; I hope every young American can see that movie at the appropriate time.

And that's the good news. The bad news is our World War II veterans are leaving us at the rate of 30,000 every month. Every month, 30,000 of them leave. And the national disgrace and scandal is that they are not getting the health care and the benefits that we promised them when they went out to serve and sacrifice, and it's a national scandal, and I promise you I'm going to fix that. That has to be our highest priority for this greatest generation.


I want to talk to you about three or four issues very quickly and a few words about why I'm running for president of the United States, and then I'd like to respond to your questions and comments. First of all, I want to also talk to you about the condition of our military. I see an ex-Navy man here, another retired Navy man here, Air Force -- good heavens, a Navy man, Air Force man sitting next to each other. That's wonderful, I'm glad -- I'm glad to see that. And a grandma -- Marine Grandma. Thank you, grandma, for your grandson or granddaughter's service.

So I want to talk to you a minute about the military, if I could, because I think we ought to understand that the all-volunteer force has not failed, the all -- we have failed the all-volunteer force. The all-volunteer force was the military that won Operation Desert Storm, probably the greatest singular military success in terms of casualties and the way the operation was carried than almost any operation in history. At that time, thanks to Ronald Reagan, we had a military that could function in an incredibly-efficient fashion, and the military victory they won was more spectacular than any of us had anticipated. Since then, all volunteer force has eroded dramatically.

There's a number of reasons for it. Among them are a lack of a commander and chief who pays attention or seems to understand the lifestyles and the difficulties and the rigors of military life, and it's also got to do with a Congress, a Congress in which there are fewer and fewer men and women who have served and they then view the defense money as just another pork barrel for them to get money for their districts or their states. And so therefore we have allowed this huge pork barrel spending of every kind -- I identified $6.4 billion in the last defense bill that just had nothing to do with Defense but everything to do with pork barrel and earmark spending. Meanwhile -- and that's bad, that's bad, that's something that I'm going to -- I'm going to stop. But what's really egregious and sometimes makes me lose my temper is that we have 12,000 enlisted families, proud, brave young men and women that are on food stamps. Now, that's a national disgrace. There will be no food-stamp Army Navy or Marine Corps or Air Force when I'm president of the United States. I promise you that.


So we have to rebuild our military, we have to purchase equipment that applies to the new post-Cold War challenges, some, many of which, I'd be glad to talk to you about. But first of all, we've got to take care of these proud young men and women.

About six months ago there was a piece on "20/20"; some of you may have seen it. It showed enlisted Marines in food -- on -- in uniform, in uniform down in Camp Pendleton standing in line for cartons of food. What is that all about? What is that all about? And this is the first time in history, by the way, we have a president of the United States, a secretary of state and a secretary of defense none of whom have ever spent one minute wearing the uniform in the armed services of the United States of America. That will change as well, my friends.


So -- so we need to rebuild our military. I know a lot of Americans think that since the Cold War is over there aren't the problems and challenges that there were. My friends, look at -- look at your newspapers. Saddam Hussein continues to try to acquire weapons of mass destruction, the Chinese have threatened Taiwan with aggression just recently, the North Koreans have tested a three-stage missile over Japan, the countries like Iran and Libya and Iraq continue to sponsor terrorists organizations, there is no peace unfortunately in the Middle East or certainly right now there are significant difficulties. The issues go on and on. I am fully prepared to be commander in chief, I need no on-the-job training, I am fully prepared to assume those duties tomorrow, and I am the most fully prepared to do that.


Now, if I could, I'd like to talk to you about -- about -- a little bit about who's the fiscal conservative here in this race. My friends, we have a thing called the surplus. I'm sure that you know that that is your tax dollars in Washington. And the question is, what do we do with the surplus. I want to take a percentage of that surplus, in addition to closing a bunch of corporate welfare and corporate loopholes, and put it into a working family's tax cut. I want to eliminate the marriage penalty, I wan to cut the inheritance taxes up to -- before anyone pays a penny in inheritance taxes, it should be -- death taxes, it should be about $5 million. Family farmers should be able to pass on their farms to their descendants without it being confiscated by the government of the United States.


We shouldn't -- we shouldn't penalize people tax-wise for being married, that's really crazy, and we should do a number of other things. But we also realize, and it's interesting to me, and it's a sign of the greatness and mind view of Americans and their willingness to understand that not only do they have to work for themselves and take care of their own lives, but they have recognized the obligations we have. We know we have obligations in the form of the Social Security Trust Fund. Everybody knows that by the year 2014 there's going to be more money going out than coming in. There's young people in this audience who deserve to have Social Security benefits, as well as those who are receiving it now.

There was a poll that showed not -- that not too long ago that more young Americans believe that Elvis is alive than believe they will ever see a Social Security check. Elvis has been spotted in numerous places around this valley.

But the fact is, that it is true, we've got to put a bunch of money, in my view 62 percent, of this surplus into the Social Security Trust Fund. If you do that, then you will be able to take part of your payroll taxes, invest it in investments with your name on it, and that way Congress can't touch it. And the returns from that will be enormously difficult.

So we've got to save Social Security, we got to put some money into Medicare, and then of course you know we have acquired a $3.6 trillion debt all these years that we've been spending more money than we took in.

And you know, we are paying almost as much in interest on that debt as we are spending on national defense. The thing I have learned in this campaign, and the hundreds of townhall meetings I have had, person after person, average working family person, has stood up and said: Senator McCain, I want a tax cut, but I want to pay down the debt. I want to pay down the debt. Don't you think we ought to pay down the debt and fulfill that obligation?

Governor Bush's tax proposal takes every bit of the surplus and puts it in tax cuts, 38 percent of his tax cut goes to the wealthiest one percent of Americans. Now, I have a lot of sympathy for Mr. Gates and other billionaires, but I don't think that they need any help right now. But working families do, because working families are paying as much as 40 percent of their income in taxes, when you count up state, federal, local, sales, all the taxes you pay, it is the working families that need the tax cuts in my view.

So Governor Bush has not one penny for Social Security, new money for Social Security, Medicare or paying down the debt. I think it is risky to count on surpluses forever, because if you put it all into tax cuts, and then those surpluses don't materialize guess where the money is going to come from? The Social Security Trust Fund, and I don't think it is the right thing to do.

Look, I am a proud fiscal conservative. Last fall, Congress passed one of the outrageous pork barrel spending bill in history. According to Citizens Against Government Waste, it was the worst. It had every kind of wasteful spending project you can imagine in it. They put it in in the middle of the night, the rest of Congress was gone, and we had the choice to either vote for it or against it. I said, I voted against it, I put all the pork barrel projects on my Web sites, which by the way is what wins me Miss Congeniality every year in the Senate, and Governor Bush said he supported and would sign it.

I have identified 100 and some billion dollars worth of corporate welfare, and benefits and loopholes that need to be closed. I have identified many billions of dollars of spending cuts. Governor Bush has not identify one.

So there is a difference here. And also, I might point out to you that while Governor Bush was governor of Texas spending increased by 35 percent. Under President Clinton, federal spending only increased by some 20 percent.

So I am proud to have a long record of fiscal conservatism and being against spending cuts -- I mean being for spending cuts and against wasteful and earmarked spending. So there is a difference in this race, and I think that people ought to know about that.

Finally, I want to talk to you for a second, very importantly, about why I am running for president of the United States. I'm running, Cindy believes, because I received several sharp blows to the head while I was in prison. I reject that notion.

I would like to remind you that there is a line that has some truth to it, that if you are a United States senator, unless you are under indictment or detoxification, you automatically consider yourself a candidate for president of the United States, as you know.

But I'm running for president because I want to reform the institutions of government. I want to reform it. Look, we've got to reform military, as I was talking about. We have to reform education, so that every family, every family in America has the same ability that wealthy parents have, and that is to send their child to the school of their choice in their neighborhood. That's what the reform of education is all about. And I want to reform the tax code, the tax code is now 44,000 pages long, 44,000 pages long.

Yesterday I was reading an article in the "New York Times." Guess what has happened in the last few years? It has gone from 40,000 pages long to 44,000 pages long. Nobody, nobody in America understands it. And if you are rich and you can hire tax lawyers and all of that, then that's fine. Then it is cornucopia of good deals. If you are an average citizen, it is a nightmare, it is a nightmare. We've got to clean up that tax code, and make it simple and fairer. And one of the ways of doing that is taking this part of the surplus, and making the 15 percent tax bracket, just raise it all the way up to couples making as much as $70,000 a year. That's the way you flatten out the tax in my view.

But I can't do that until we break the iron triangle, the iron triangle of big money, special interests and legislation, which has deprived you of your government. I promise you, my number-one mission is to get the big money, and special interests out of Washington, and get rid of them, get this government back to you, and reform it. KELLEY: Senator John McCain in Stockton, California, the townhall meeting today. He said they have had very big crowds lately, and a little bit smaller today, so he thought that might be better for questions and comments. He talked about the issues, and why he wants to run for president, including veterans, the military, taxes, what he would like to do with that, and paying down the debt.

Today's voting, the Virginia primary, the Washington State primary, and the North Dakota Republican caucuses, that we will keeping track of for you all day long. And as it goes into the end of the voting today here on CNN, you will want to stay with us for that.


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