On the Stump, McCain Outlines Differences with Bush
By Juliet Eilperin
WESTPORT, Conn. -- Speaking before a global investment firm this afternoon, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took pains to distance himself from President Bush even as he reiterated his support for Gen. David Petraeus's handling of the war in Iraq.
During a town hall meeting at Bridgewater Associates, McCain vowed to confer more with congressional leaders on matters of war and "be humble" in his dealings with foreign leaders. Asked whether he would reject Bush's "preemptive war" strategy, he declined to rule it out but said he would take a sharply different tack when weighing military action overseas.
"I think you need to consult more closely and carefully, not with every member of Congress, but with the leadership of Congress," he told the crowd of several hundred Bridgewater employees. "If they're not in on the takeoff, they're not going to be in on the landing.... In other words, consult with them a whole lot."
The GOP presidential nominee also conceded the administration may have erred in some of the restrictions it placed on foreigners in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, saying there's "a constant tension" between protecting civil liberties and national security.
"It's not the first time in America where we've made an error," he said, alluding to the federal government's internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Adding that "sometimes democracies overreact" during times of national security crises, he pledged to periodically review the Patriot Act in order to safeguard civil liberties.
McCain also reiterated his long-held opposition to torture. "As president of the United States I will make sure that never happens," he said. "What kind of nation are we if we torture people? That's not the shining city on the hill."
But McCain also went out of his way to praise the administration's current approach to the war, saying Petraeus ranks as "one of the greatest generals this nation has ever been blessed with."
"It's long and it's hard and it's tough," McCain said of the war. "But this new strategy is succeeding, although it's very difficult."
The audience of investment analysts, who listened to McCain under a large white tent illuminated by red, white and blue lights, asked a range of questions that touched on financial matters as well as military ones. When one questioner asked the senator if he would choose to raise taxes, cut entitlement or defense spending or increase the deficit as president given the budget's current trajectory, McCain rejected all four options. Instead, he argued, his proposal to cut taxes and constrain spending would help erase the deficit.
"My answer to you is you grow the economy," he said. "I believe we can grown this economy and reduce this deficit ... by the kinds of pro-growth, pro-stimulus packages that have shown throughout history. They can grow the economy."
One self-identified Democrat asked McCain whether he would consider resigning his seat in order to give the GOP a better chance of retaining his seat if elected, since under that scenario the state's Democratic government would appoint the Republican of her choice and then call a special election.
While McCain -- who noted he had not been asked the question for a long time -- replied, "I do not envision the scenario of resigning my seat," he added he would go back and think about the prospect of giving up his seat before the fall. "Of course," he said, laughing, "there are people who regularly ask me to resign."
Posted at 6:56 PM ET on Apr 9, 2008
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