MN Gov. Pawlenty Questions McCain's Stance on Bridge Collapse
Updated 11:15 p.m.
By Juliet Eilperin and Michael D. Shear
Sen. John McCain today attempted to clarify comments about the collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis, saying that he never intended to say that federal budget earmarks were the cause of the fatal collapse of the span.
Responding to reporters as he traveled through Iowa, the presumptive GOP presidential candidate said he only meant to say that earmarks divert money away from necessary projects toward unneeded pork-barrel ones.
"When you divert money to projects that are unneeded and unwanted, any project that is deserved is not going to receive the funding that's necessary," he said, according to a report from CBS News. "And I will maintain again that I believe that when you fund a bridge to Alaska or you fund a highway in Florida that the people there don't even want, then money is diverted from much needed projects."
In Pennsylvania yesterday, McCain said the Interstate 35W bridge collapse last summer resulted from the fact that lawmakers have consistently spent taxpayers' dollars on items aimed at bolstering their political standing back home
"The bridge in Minneapolis didn't collapse because there wasn't enough money," McCain told reporters. "The bridge in Minneapolis collapsed because so much money was spent on wasteful, unnecessary pork-barrel projects."
That had prompted a mild rebuke from Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a backer of McCain's, who told reporters that they should not necessarily accept the senator's analysis that a Minneapolis bridge collapse stemmed from wasteful federal spending.
Pawlenty, one of McCain's co-chairmen and someone who is sometimes referred to as a possible GOP vice presidential nominee, said citizens should not jump to conclusions about the bridge collapse until the National Transportation Safety Board completes its investigation of the incident.
"We have to let the NTSB weigh in on this before anybody can make a final conclusion," Pawlenty said.
The probe, which is likely to wrap up this summer or fall, has focused on a possible design flaw in the bridge. Pawlenty said that he called McCain's aides to remind them that the safety board would be issuing a report within a matter of months.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Ryback, a Democrat, also questioned McCain's response. "I'm surprised he is saying something different than the governor, who has said that this wasn't about resources," Rybak told reporters. "More important, I believe it is very problematic for politicians to use the catastrophe."
Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel echoed Rybak's remarks. "John McCain's comments regarding the I-35 Minneapolis bridge tragedy are disappointing and inappropriate," he said in a statement. "I agree with Mayor Rybak that it's wrong for Senator McCain to try to use a catastrophe that killed 13 people and injured hundreds to score political points. Senator McCain should apologize to the people of Minnesota for his remarks."
McCain was not the first presidential candidate to mention the I-35 bridge. In defending his opposition to the idea of a gas-tax holiday, Barack Obama said last weekend that the proposal would rob the government of funds for road construction and added, "Remember that bridge in Minneapolis?"
RNC spokesman Danny Diaz said, "Rahm Emanuel might want to look up the word hypocrisy in the dictionary. Clearly the Illinois congressman is not worried about his credibility."
--Juliet Eilperin and Michael D. Shear
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