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Special Event

Senators McCain; Feingold Field Questions After Town Hall Meeting

Aired January 29, 2001 - 2:54 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to switch you now live to Little Rock, Arkansas where John McCain is taking questions along with Russ Feingold about their town hall meeting which just concluded on campaign finance reform.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: ... is that this isn't some kind of system that's always been there, and we need to change it, sort of like a utopian idea of what we should do. This is only about five years old, this soft money system.

This is an unprecedented, unheard of problem that unions and corporations and individuals can suddenly give unlimited amounts of money. We never had that kind of political system, never had that kind of corruption or opportunity for corruption. And so, I want that drive message through. Once people hear that, they're usually not only on board, but they're pretty irritated.

QUESTION: People may be on board, but the other -- the fellow senators may not be on board, Senators Feingold and McCain. What makes you think that this year can be different, that you can succeed now?

FEINGOLD: Well, it's numbers game. We've had a majority of the U.S. Senate for a variety of versions of our bill for years. The only obstacle that has remained is that we need 60 votes to break the filibuster. We think we have those votes now.

We defeated several of the major opponents of campaign finance reform in Senate races around the country, and replaced them with people who are with us. And then a wonderful thing happened, Senator Thad Cochran, very conservative; senior, respected member of the Senate came up to Senator McCain and provided us what we think is at least our 60th vote. So, the difference is we think we have the votes.

(CROSSTALK)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think also, the result of the election where some elections were decided on this issue. And second of all, this continuing increase, dramatic increase in so-called soft money, independent campaigns and finally I think, the president may have given us another bullet with the pardoning of this man, Rich a fugitive from justice whose ex-wife gave one million dollars in soft money plus some furniture, about $7,000 worth of furniture. That -- Americans are very unhappy about that and recognize that there's an evil out there.

QUESTION: Do you know you have 60 votes or do you think you have 60 votes, and how does Tim Hutchinson figure into that vote?

MCCAIN: I do not figure in Senator Hutchinson. I am confident we have more than 60 votes.

QUESTION: Is that why you came to Little Rock first?

MCCAIN: Well, we came to Little Rock just because it was convenient to do so. We're going to Oregon, to Illinois, to Maine, to New Jersey. We're trying to cover as many states as we can between now and when the bill comes up, which we think is the end of March.

QUESTION: Still, did pressuring Senator Hutchinson not factor in to start in Arkansas?

MCCAIN: No, I believe that we need Senator Hutchinson. We'd like very much to have Senator Hutchinson's support. But we are here to get the support of the people of the state of Arkansas.

FEINGOLD: I want to follow on that one, if I could, about Arkansas. This congressional delegation here is exceptional. Every single one of them is involved in some positive way on this issue. The junior senator, Senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln has been with us all the all. The senior senator, Senator Hutchinson has voted with us for cloture in the past.

The House members on the Democratic side are all with us, and Asa Hutchinson has been one of the leaders of bipartisan efforts in the House. This is a very good state for this and it's certainly the main reason that I came here.

QUESTION: Mr. McCain, following what Mrs. Sponaugle (ph) said about the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), does this suggest to you that Mr. Hutchinson -- Senator Hutchinson is not serious about campaign (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

MCCAIN: No, I don't allege that in any way. I believe that Senator Hutchinson is sincere. I believe he's sincere in his views and I think they're well-founded views. I hope that he will engage in the debate and the amending process which will be part of any legislative result that we obtain.

OK.

QUESTION: Senator, can you tell us any more about you concerns about the pardon of Mr. Rich and you mentioned furniture that was donated, was to a fellow colleague, the senator?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I do not question the motives nor do I know motives for the president pardoning Mr. Rich. I do know that there's a terrible appearance of impropriety when a million dollars in soft money is given by the ex-wife of a fugitive from justice.

I could elaborate by -- it was according to "The New York Times" yesterday and the response to Mr. Rich's request for pardon by the U.S. attorney who said, if he want a pardon, he should come back to the United States and face justice. But, I won't pursue that.

So, it's a terrible appearance of impropriety because of the over a million dollars in soft money. As far as the gifts are concerned, it is a violation in spirit if not the letter of the gift ban that Senator Feingold and I worked so hard to obtain because she was a senator-elect -- she was a senator-elected and certified by the secretary of state of the state of New York.

But technically, she was not a United States senator because she hadn't raised her hand. I my view, as author of the gift ban -- one of the co-authors, excuse me, of the gift ban, I think that is a violation of the spirit of the gift ban law.

QUESTION: Mr. Feingold, as a Democrat (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is she?

FEINGOLD: There's no question that she...

ALLEN: All right, we will leave it there. John McCain and Russ Feingold about to wrap-up their appearance before reporters after their town hall meeting. Again, Mr. McCain lambasting the controversial pardon of Marc Rich by President Clinton, saying that is more weaponry he will take to Capitol Hill to fight for campaign finance reform. You'll see that fight coming up in just a few weeks in the Senate.

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