The Star editorial board met with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain on April 1. Excerpts from the conversation follow. The transcript is available at azstarnet.com/news/opinion
STAR: In the past, and I know you don't support amnesty, you have supported a path to citizenship that was in your own bill with Sen. (Ted) Kennedy and later with Sen. (Jon) Kyl's bill. Will you support such a path again after the border is secured?
McCAIN: After the border is secured, then obviously we have to address the issue of the 12 million people who are still in this country illegally. I don't know what … American public opinion will take. But one of the key elements, as was in our previous legislation, is a legal temporary worker program.
Now, it's just a fact that the unions have long opposed a legal temporary worker program. And I respect their reasons for it, I just don't agree with it.
So the president has not come forward with a proposal for immigration reform. … But one of the reasons why he hasn't is because the unions don't want a legal temporary worker program.
And they know that none of us will support any reform unless it has a temporary worker program in it. And by the way, I'd be glad to go into the details on how it is very workable to make sure that people don't stay here.
If I were president, I would have come forward with a proposal. And people keep coming to me and saying what's your proposal. I say look, I lost the election. Hello. You know, I'm reminded of that every day.
STAR: But you represent a border state that's affected by inaction.
McCAIN: Yes. Yes. I do. But so does the senator from New Mexico and the senators from California and all the border states all along. But it seems to me that the proposal should come, it's the obligation of the president of the United States to come forward with what he thinks is a proposal and then maybe we can all work together and get it resolved.
STAR: I wanted to ask about "don't ask, don't tell." I'm wondering if you've been approached by gay service members because you said that it's been working well. So I'm curious how do you come to that conclusion? Have you sought out gay service members, have you been approached by gay service members? How do you make that determination?
McCAIN: I make that determination by retention and recruitment is at an all-time high, the highest in the history of the all-volunteer force. I get that opinion because I visit with the troops all the time. I go to Iraq, I go to Afghanistan, I run into them everywhere. And of course I don't seek out someone who is gay. Why should I? These are all men and women who are serving. Why should I, that would be nuts. I go up to men and women and I say thanks for serving. I say thank you for serving, you are great Americans, God bless you.
STAR: But if there's a policy that could put that service in jeopardy for a number of service members, how do you judge whether it's working individually if you're not speaking with the people who are affected?
McCAIN: The policy is one that has worked by the opinion of their commanders. Now the military is an organization that is designed for one purpose and one purpose only, to fight and win wars. That's the only reason why we have a military. So by any objective view, our military is the most-professional, best-equipped, best-trained, most-highest-quality that it's ever been. That means that its policies are working. And they get that from every commander from the sergeant to the second lieutenant all the way up to the service chiefs.
Now just yesterday, Gen. (George) Casey said he was very worried about an abrupt change without assessing the impact on the men and women in the military and our battle effectiveness. That's what he said.
The commandant of the Marine Corps said that he's against it. The head of the United States Marine Corps said that he's against it. And he said that they may have to change the living arrangements of the members of the United States Marine Corps.
Now these are people who are battle-seasoned, they are people that are sergeants who have five tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.
STAR: You said that in your estimation …
McCAIN: It's not my estimation. … You can't change the numbers of recruitment and retention.
STAR: If those things are going well, could they be better if the policy was changed?
McCAIN: That's why we need to review the policy and find out what the effect is on the military and their battle effectiveness. That's why we need an extensive review and listen to the commandant of the Marine Corps, who says it should not be repealed. Listen to the men and women in the field, listen to the families of those who are serving rather than fulfill a campaign promise.
Now the reason why the president declared this is because it was a campaign promise, not because our military is hurting, not because we're having difficulties in the military.
STAR: We also wanted to ask you about Proposition 100 because you have come out against that (a temporary state sales-tax increase). And even (meeting) with us before, when we have asked you about state issues, you said you didn't want to go there, that we had a state government. But on this one you stated your position. Can you talk about why?
McCAIN: Because we kept being asked. Because Kyl and I kept being asked. And we felt we owed people an answer, and it was our personal opinion.
STAR: So what do you think the solutions are, if it's not this. We've got a big (state budget) hole.
McCAIN: I don't think the solution is to raise taxes. It's been my experience that every time we've raise taxes we've not succeeded because revenues generally have decreased.
STAR: So what is the solution?
McCAIN: A lot less spending, I would think. I am not that familiar with their problems. I know what tax increases do. Tax increases do not increase revenues, in my experience, at the federal level have not worked, have not had beneficial economic effects. And I have opposed every tax increase in the years that I've been there.
STAR: Can you talk a little bit about inflamed rhetoric that sort of rose out of the health-care debate and continued? … People calling each other baby-killers and ugly names and putting Democrats in the cross hairs.
McCAIN: Well, I think it came from extremes on both sides. And there may be some disagreement. But I saw a lot of inflammatory things said and done about President Bush, murderer, war criminal. The Code Pink people living outside his ranch.
During the 2008 campaign, Congressman John Lewis, a guy who I admired all of my adult life, that I wrote a chapter in one of my books about, issued a statement saying that my campaign was so racist that it reminded him of the Birmingham church bombing where three children were killed. I thought that was kind of inflammatory, to tell you the truth. Actually I thought it was worse than inflammatory.
So we saw a lot of this back and forth. So all of us regret it. All of us tried to tell people, as I did at the town hall meeting about President Obama during the campaign, as you recall.
At the same time, perhaps with not total objectivity, I believe that the liberal media has a specialty in not reporting both sides. … I mean, I have Code Pink people that jumped out in front of our car, that call me a murderer and a baby-killer all the time. It's just their standard yelling and screaming. But whenever I'm on a Sunday talk show, they are usually out there and yell and scream that I'm a killer and a murderer.
STAR: In conjunction with what?
McCAIN: The war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan.
McCAIN: I think what's on most people's minds right now is what we can do for them now and in the future as they go through these terribly difficult times. And one's record is very important always. But what can I do to get people back to work? What can I do to keep their homes? What can I do to protect the nation?
STAR: Because every day you are thinking jobs, jobs, jobs?
McCAIN: Yeah. Small business, small business, small business.
STAR: So that would be your agenda.
McCAIN: Primarily, yes. Well, I think we should reduce the corporate tax from 35 to 25 (percent); so that applies to big business.
STAR: How do you justify that when you were concerned about the (federal) deficit?
McCAIN: Because that would stimulate a world economy. And we have the highest corporate tax rate in the world, of any country in the world. And so it is a disincentive for businesses and corporations to stay here or businesses and corporations to come here … the U.S. and Arizona.