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Special Event

McCain Endorses Bush for President

Aired May 9, 2000 - 9:33 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: The much anticipated meeting between John McCain and George W. Bush now ended. Now at the microphone.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... there is a lot of things we agree on. I'm going to let him talk to you about -- he'll express his own opinions. Here's mine: We agree that we need to change the tone and temperament of Washington. We agree there needs to be substantial reform when it comes to education and Social Security, reform when it comes to campaign funding laws. We agree that a president can change the -- he can change the temperament of America, can unite our country and call upon the best of our citizens to serve their fellow man. We agree on a lot.

I've always respected John. We had a tough primary. I told him point blank he made me a better candidate. He raised a really good campaign, and he put me through my paces. And as a result of the campaign, I stand -- I'm better prepared to become the president. That's exactly what I intend to do as well.

John?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you very much.

We had a very good meeting. We talked about a variety of issues. We're in agreement on a lot more issues than which we are in disagreement.

I have said from the very beginning that I will support the nominee of the party. I look forward to enthusiastically campaigning for Governor Bush for the next six months, between now and November. I believe that it's very important that we restore integrity and honor to the White House. I am convinced that Governor Bush can do that more than adequately.

We are not in agreement on every issue; that was made clear during the primary. We are in agreement on more issues than we are in disagreement. And I'd like to say that I will not give up on the reform agenda.

I will continue to pursue the issues of reform, and I want to assure those people that supported me in the primary that I will continue to pursue this agenda. They are not contradictory to my support of Governor Bush, and I look forward to working with him and others as we can reform the institutions of government, including campaign finance reform. We are in agreement on the reform of education and health care, the military. Many of those issues we had a very good discussion about.

So we had a good meeting. I hope that our next meeting will not attract nearly as much attention as this one did, and I look forward to further discussions with Governor Bush and being present when he is inaugurated as the next president of the United States.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MCCAIN: Yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MCCAIN: I think your "take the medicine now" is probably a good description.

(LAUGHTER)

Actually, as I said before, I want to work to elect Governor Bush. I want to elect and reelect Republicans so we will maintain control of the House and the Senate. Governor Bush and I agree that that is vital to his ability to effectively be president of the United States, to work with a Republican Congress. I will continue a very heavy pace of campaigning for Republican House and Senate candidates, as well as assisting Governor Bush. And I look forward to that opportunity.

QUESTION: Senator, why do you have difficulty using the word "endorsement" when you talk about your support for Governor Bush...

MCCAIN: I endorse Governor Bush.

(LAUGHTER)

I endorse Governor Bush, I endorse Governor Bush, I endorse Governor Bush, I endorse Governor Bush, I endorse Governor Bush.

BUSH: By the way, I enthusiastically accept.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Does that have to do with the feelings you still have about the kind of primary that you two ran and the bitterness you had at the time about some of the tactics that Governor Bush used.

MCCAIN: Look, the only way you can approach American politics in seeking elective office is to move forward. For me to look back in anger with any rancor would be a mistake. It would harm me, it would harm Governor Bush, and it would harm those who supported me in this campaign.

I look forward and not back. I hold no rancor. Others will be the judge of this campaign, not me. And my job is to further our efforts to bring about institutions -- reforming the institutions of government. I can't do that effectively if I look back rather than forward.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Pat Robertson said this weekend (OFF-MIKE). Do you repudiate that remark, again, the remarks the reverend leveled at Senator Rudman during the primary.

BUSH: Listen, I, like John, I'm looking forward. I intend to become the president. Now John's a friend, he is a good man, he's a man of good judgment, and I look forward to working with him. I don't...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... recent polling showing a hypothetical three-way race that the man standing you're with still has a significant amount of support in this country.

BUSH: That's why I enthusiastically accept his endorsement.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: How important is that endorsement to you, A?

And, B, what do you say to that bloc out there -- 23 percent, according to a recent poll -- on this day that he's endorsing you to make sure that they fall in line behind...

BUSH: Well, I think his endorsement's important because of that reason. There's a lot of people who think John is not only a great American but a person who's got a good solid agenda for the future. And as we just said, there's a lot of areas where we agree. And I intend to continue talking about reform, and it's very helpful to have John embrace reform.

And I'll tell you a good area where we both agree, and there's going to be a stark difference of opinion, and that's on Social Security. There's a lot of Americans who understand it's time to have a different attitude when it comes to making sure there's pension plans available for younger workers.

John and I both agree we must trust younger workers with some of their money in the private sector. We both agree, and he came out with a very interesting idea, along with Senator Moynihan and Senator Kerrey that said, why don't we form a commission of some of the legislative branch, maybe some appointed by the next president, to put a plan before the Congress with an up or down vote as to whether or not the Congress has got the will necessary to save Social Security for younger workers. And that includes the ability of younger workers to manage some of their money in the private sector.

John and I agree strongly on that idea. And it's going to be a big difference of opinion between what he and I believe and what Vice President Gore believes. Vice President Gore's willing to accept the status quo, he's willing to think the current system is going to work, and we don't. And so people are going to find out that we agree on a lot of areas.

QUESTION: Did you pop the question to Senator McCain about whether he'd like to be considered as your running mate or maybe (OFF- MIKE)

BUSH: I asked his advice about the vice presidency.

MCCAIN: And I asked that I not be considered for vice president of the United States.

QUESTION: Did you ask who would be considered? And did the name of Governor Tom Ridge surface at all during those discussions?

BUSH: Yes, it did.

QUESTION: Can you expand?

BUSH: The name of Governor Tom Ridge surfaced during the discussions.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: He surfaced it, by the way.

MCCAIN: No, I have the greatest respect and affection for Governor Ridge, but also I feel that Governor Bush is blessed with a large number of highly qualified men and women who have served as Republicans and served the country. Tom Ridge is one of those. Tommy Thompson, John Engler, Christie Todd Whitman, Elizabeth Dole. The list goes on of many others -- Chuck Hagel, Fred Thompson, John Kasich. There's a long list of very highly qualified men and women who I believe will serve with distinction and help Governor Bush become president of the United States.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MCCAIN: My -- secretary of reform.

QUESTION: Governor Bush, Senator McCain said that he didn't want to be considered it. Is that it? Is it over?

BUSH: I take him for his word.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MCCAIN: I think the single most important reason is that Governor Bush is the most qualified person to be president of the United States. He has the vision, he has the knowledge and the expertise to carry out the mission of maintaining United States supremacy, both militarily and economically, in the world. I think that it's clear that Governor Bush's philosophy, his ideals and his ability to articulate a vision for the future, is the major reason why he should be president of the United States and not Al Gore. And I want to emphasize one more time, and I made it very clear to Governor Bush, I will continue to pursue the issues of reform; that is the agenda that drove me in my campaign and will drive me as long as I am in public service.

I believe we will have disagreements, but I also believe we will have a lot more agreements than disagreements. And I think our discussions and our debate will be healthy, and in the long run, helpful to the Party and the country.

QUESTION: Can you discuss at all what your role in the convention -- or did you all talk about a role for Senator McCain?

BUSH: Not yet, but I would hope that John would play a key role in the convention. One reason why is we don't even have the format down yet. There's nothing to discuss until there's a pretty clear view about how the program is going to work. As you know, Andy Card has been named the head of the convention, and Andy's going to start working on the program and the timing of the different speeches, and John deserves a spot there at the convention.

QUESTION: For either of you or both: Did you discuss taxes at your meeting and use of the surplus? And did you come to any common ground on that?

MCCAIN: I didn't hear the question.

BUSH: She asked about taxes.

Yes, we did discuss taxes and tax reform. And yes, we did.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: No, not really. We talked about some disagreements on areas. We'd rather talk about the areas where we agree, though, if you don't mind.

The good news is, we have a very frank discussion. John's a plain-spoken fellow. I'm a pretty good listener. And I think that when -- on all issues, I spoke my mind and he spoke his, and that's good. That's the way I like my relationships. I like people that come into a room and say, listen, here's what I think. And he listened to what I had to say and I listened to what he had to say. And it's -- we've got a good relationship.

We had a good relationship before the primaries and we've got a good relationship now. And we'll have a good relationship when I become the president.

MCCAIN: Could I also emphasize that it was a private conversation. If we had wanted, we would have saved everybody a lot of time by just having you in the room, if we wanted to discuss every detail of our conversation. But I think it is fair to characterize it as a very useful and helpful conversation, as we had envisioned when we set up this meeting.

HEMMER: Frank comments and a rather hearty endorsement from John McCain in favor of George W. Bush in his bid for the White House this election 2000. John McCain describing the meeting they had as a "very good meeting," but said again, reiterating that he will not be the running mate for George W. Bush. And then asked about a cabinet position, he said he would be secretary of reform.

In addition to that, a lot of people were looking to the Republican convention this summer to see what type of position John McCain occupies in the republican platform.

John King in Pittsburgh now, joins us live.

And I guess, John, one could say that this was a hearty endorsement, something that McCain, anyway, in the last few days wanted to put behind him, but again saying today he holds no rancor for the tough primary fight that the two men had.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Always clear, though, Bill, from the body language and the senator's tome at this event, this a much more of a political decisions than a personal decision. he said he wanted to endorse Governor Bush because he did not think it would be good for him, not good for Governor Bush, and also not good for the people who voted for him, for Senator McCain, had he held out a formal endorsement. The senator also stressing he would continue to air his differences with Governor Bush on reform-oriented issues.

But obviously, Senator McCain wanted to return to the Republican fold. He had been criticized for not using the world "endorse." Saying for weeks he would support the Republican nominee, today when pressed on that issue, we saw some of his trademark humor when he said, "I endorse, I endorse, I endorse, I endorse, I endorse."

Clearly. though, these two men have a lot of work to do in building a personal relationship. Right now, very clear, it is a political one -- Bill.

HEMMER: It is by my count, John, I got 90 minutes in the meeting. Do you know if that was the length of that meeting, itself, or did it go shorter than that?

KING: A little bit was shorter than that. They broke, and they met briefly with their staffs before they decided to come in to meet with reporters. Again, the senator saying, some of the details should stay private, but clear from the questions and the answers, that they went though very much the same issues they litigated in the campaign.

Senator McCain thinks the Bush tax cut is too big, won't leave enough money in Washington to shore up Social Security and to pay for other promises. Governor Bush, of course, and his staff particularly, they wanted some evidence from the McCain camp that the McCain people realize that they lost, that they have only about 10 percent of the delegates to the convention, and that the big decisions should be made by the nominee, that nominee of course will be Governor Bush.

HEMMER: And again, John, the two men putting up a pretty good front there today in Pittsburgh, but again, when it comes to the issue of campaigning on a day-to-day of week-to-week or month-to-month basis, how much can we see McCain standing next to George W. Bush on the campaign trail? What can we predict as we look down the road here?

KING: I think it is unlikely you will see the two of these men together much, A, because they don't have a great personal relationship, but B, because it also wouldn't make quite much sense. You will see Senator McCain campaigning very aggressively for Republican congressional candidates, and if you look at the polling data and the primary results, Senator McCain is strongest, where Governor Bush is weakest, in New England, in the Northeast, then in some areas of the Midwest where independent swing voters decide the elections, and then over to the West Coast, California, up in to Oregon and Washington. Senator McCain has strengths where Governor Bush is weak. So he could be helpful, if he follows through on that promise to enthusiastically campaign, he could prove helpful to the governor in some of the states where Governor Bush he needs help the most.

HEMMER: All you have to do is look at the poll numbers and see just how popular a politicians John McCain is still today indeed. John King, line in Pittsburgh, John, thanks.

More now with Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And with more perspective on today's meetings between George W. Bush and Senator John McCain, let's bring in Bill Schneider, political analyst in our Washington bureau.

Bill, good morning to you.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning, Daryn.

KAGAN: How important is this endorsement to George W. Bush in his quest for the presidency?

SCHNEIDER: Very important. I mean, John McCain has been described as a nuclear weapon that Bush can use against Al Gore. What was interesting to me is nobody really attacked Al Gore. When McCain was asked why he was endorsing Bush, he said Bush has the vision, he is more qualified, he has the expertise, he was very careful not to say anything negative about Al Gore. Interesting signal there. I think he is expected to do more criticism of Gore as the campaign goes on.

KAGAN: And what does John McCain get out of this?

SCHNEIDER: Legitimacy to the Republican Party. Look, it is not a secret, maybe it is something that John McCain can't say, but I'll say it.

KAGAN: OK.

SCHNEIDER: It's in his interest for George Bush to lose, really, because then he can say: I told you so. I told you the Republican Party has to adopt my agenda. We have to reform. We have to be a different kind of part. He can never say that. He can never do anything to make that happed. But what he did today was endorse Governor Bush, but say: I still have my agenda. I am not compromising. Bush is not compromising. They can both maintain the integrity of their principles. What he said was: I think Bush is more qualified to president. I am supporting him. But I am keeping control of my agenda.

KAGAN: Does this allow now for a marriage of convenience, they have agreed to agree, and yet one can go one way, and one can go the other,, you think?

SCHNEIDER: That's more or less an apt description I think. It was a marriage of convenience. McCain knew that he had no choice. He has to show Republicans that he is a team player because if George Bush loses, McCain has to be the one that Republicans turn to, and say: We should have listened to you. You were the one who told us all along that we had to change the party. We didn't believe it. But now, finally, we do believe it.

But if he is continuing to be a anathema to republicans, an invader from Mars, than he has no hope of ever becoming president.

KAGAN: And just quickly, why do you think now? Just so the Republicans can get on with business?

SCHNEIDER: It has been two months since the end of the primaries, and I think there was view: enough is enough. The McCain act had been going on too long. Look, McCain is the rock star of American politics. He is getting more attention in many ways than George Bush. That trip to Vietnam, the press follows him everywhere. He lost, and I think people were beginning to say to John McCain: Get over it. It is time to pull together.

KAGAN: Bill Schneider, our own rock star her on "MORNING NEWS."

HEMMER: Rock on.

KAGAN: That's what we think of when think of you, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Thank you.

KAGAN: Thanks for joining us. We appreciate your perspective this morning.

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