Wheat, Silver and Nuclear Waste: McCain Takes Questions In Nevada
Updated 5:18 p.m.
By Juliet Eilperin
RENO, Nev. -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) proved one thing this morning as he addressed a crowd of hundreds at the Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows: He can pronounce this state's name like a local.
"It's wonderful to be here in Ne-veh-da," he declared, obviously pleased that he did not commit the error of calling it "Ne-vaah-da." So he said it again -- three times -- drawing appreciative applause from the crowd. "Ne-veh-da, Ne-veh-da, Ne-veh-da."
Speaking before an enthusiastic and partisan crowd of at least 600 -- an unusually large gathering for the McCain campaign -- the presumptive GOP nominee devoted most of his opening remarks to attacking Democratic opponent Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). He started off by mocking the recently passed farm bill, questioning why it would devote $20 million to collect seeds for research and $35 million to develop "hard, white wheat."
"He wants to continue this spending spree, he wants to continue this waste of your tax dollars on these unnecessary, pork barrel projects," McCain said. "I would veto a bill such as this farm bill. ... Republicans have got to stop joining with big-spending Democrats." The crowd responded with loud cheers and whistles.
Continuing with his line of attack, McCain questioned why Obama has only visited Iraq once, and why he has refused to sit down with Gen. David Petraeus to discuss the war effort.
"My friends, this is about leadership and learning. Why did I do that? Because I learned, I learned from the men and women of the military," he said. Obama, by contrast, "has not held one single hearing on Afghanistan, where American men and women are in harm's way."
The fact that Obama sees the war as a failure and has refused to travel with him to Iraq, McCain said, "that is a profound misunderstanding of what's happened in Iraq, and what's at stake in Iraq."
Later in the day, the Obama campaign responded forcefully. "On the day after the former White House press secretary conceded that the Bush administration used deception and propaganda to take us to war, it seems odd that Senator McCain, who bought the flawed rationale for war so readily, would be lecturing others on their depth of understanding about Iraq," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton. "Senator Obama challenged the President's rationale for the war from the start, warning that it would divert resources from Afghanistan and the pursuit of AlQaeda and mire us in an endless civil war. Senator McCain stubbornly insists on pursuing the failed Bush policy that continues to cost so much, while Senator Obama believes it's time to begin a deliberate, careful strategy to remove our troops and compel the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future."
The audience at the event, which asked uniformly conservative questions, gave the senator a standing ovation when he vowed to "never surrender" in Iraq, and applauded fiercely when he said he opposed abortion and believes the right to life -- as in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" -- applies "to the unborn as well the born."
For a few minutes the senator waded into the politically sensitive question of whether to store the nation's entire nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain: A questioner gave a lengthy speech on why it make more sense to "divide it up" and store it in 10 underground nuclear repositories across the nation.
"I cannot push for that many," McCain said, and instead he floated an idea he had just raised yesterday in advance of his Reno visit. "I can push for an international -- some place internationally where we could ship nuclear waste and have it stored."
The rest of the questions were non-confrontational, though they often veered to the right of McCain's own positions. One audience member suggested McCain throw out the current Mexican government in order to halt illegal immigration; a young boy suggested the country stop using paper money and revert to silver in order to curb inflation. A third person questioned whether "the administration, and maybe this is classified, has calculated what the daily losses would be under a retreat plan under Obama."
McCain tactfully deflected most of these questions, saying the Mexican government faced a difficult drug war, he doubted the United States would start using silver dollars, and that he would continue to press for victory in Iraq.
"My first priority is the security of this nation, as it should be," he said. "But my second priority is we never send our men and women into harm's way unless the mission is clear and the cause is justified."
Then McCain left the stage, without indicating whether he would have sent troops into Iraq in the first place.
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