CBS’s Pelley Grills McCain, Kroft & Couric Chatted With Democrats

On Sunday’s CBS "60 Minutes," anchor Scott Pelley interviewed Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, and the tone of the questions was this: "The United States is going to be in Iraq for years to come. Afghanistan is not going well. Osama bin Laden is at large. And the economy is slipping into recession...How do you make a case for a third Republican term?"

Compare that to how Steve Kroft described Barack Obama’s candidacy during a February 10 interview: "He's been helped by the media's lust for a good story and the electorate's hunger for change. What he lacks in executive experience, he has made up for with a grasp of the issues, an ability to read the public mood, and the gift of turning Democratic boilerplate into political poetry." Or to Katie Couric’s interview with Hillary Clinton during the same broadcast that featured girl talk such as: "What were you like in high school? Were you the girl in the front row taking meticulous notes and always raising your hand?...Someone told me your nickname in school was Miss Frigidaire. Is that true?"

While Pelley did remark on McCain’s impressive comeback from the political dead at the top of the interview, Pelley went on to ask about Iraq:

McCain centered his campaign on what was among the most divisive issues in America, the surge in Iraq...When we traveled with him to Iraq last April, two-thirds of the American people were against the surge...I wonder at what point do you stop doing what you think is right...and you start doing what the majority of the American people want?

In contrast, Kroft asked Obama one challenging question about Iraq, with no follow up:

At a time when American casualties are down, at a time when the violence is down, particularly affecting the Iraqi population, is that the right time to... to try and set timetables for withdrawing all American troops? I mean, you've talked about...The end of 2009..Regardless of the situation? Even if there's serious sectarian violence?

With Clinton, Couric asked a similar question: "Both you and Senator Obama have suggested pulling out combat troops. But if Iraq descends into an all out civil war, becomes a blood bath, will you reassess that?" However, Couric quickly followed up with this glowing and sympathetic assessment of the New York Senator: "Her detailed understanding of Iraq and other complex issues is her specialty. A skill required by her demanding father, who set the bar impossibly high."

Pelley also quoted both Obama and Clinton in questioning McCain:

Senator Obama calls you a genuine American hero who represents the politics of yesterday...Senator Clinton says that providing universal health care is quote, "a moral responsibility." Do you agree?

Of course after Pelley’s segment comparing American health care to that of a third world country on last week’s broadcast, it seems he agrees with Senator Clinton.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:


SCOTT PELLEY: It's an immutable law of American politics that the candidate with the most money wins the nomination; but Tuesday that ended when John McCain, nearly broke at one point, became in effect the Republican nominee. The life of John McCain is the story of one near death experience after another, both literally and in terms of his career. How appropriate that he hales from a town called Phoenix.

MAN: Ladies and gentleman, please welcome the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Senator John McCain and Mrs. Cindy McCain!

PELLEY: Tuesday night in Dallas marked a historic comeback for a campaign that had been considered dead, finished.

JOHN MCCAIN: Thank you, Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island. Thank you.

PELLEY: McCain claimed the nomination at the end of an exhausting and emotional day. We met the Senator and his wife, Cindy, after his speech. About four months ago, the polls showed you coming in fourth in New Hampshire. You were down to your last $50,000. Your opponents were outspending you massively, and tonight you're the party's nominee. What is it about you that got you here?

MCCAIN: I think it shows that in America anything is possible. I think hard work. I think telling people the truth. But tonight, I'm obviously very happy and very humbled by having had this nom -- the ability to get this nomination.

PELLEY: As of about an hour ago, you became the leader of the Republican Party, a party that you've sometimes been at odds with.

MCCAIN: From time to time.

PELLEY: Where are you going to lead it?

MCCAIN: Oh we have to, I think, re-energize our party. We have to expand the base. We have to appeal to the independents, and we got to go out and get those -- those Reagan Democrats, and there's a whole new generation of them. We got our work cut out for us.

PELLEY: The next day, he accepted an endorsement that cuts both ways. The president is popular with conservatives, but overall he has the lowest approval ratings since Nixon and Carter.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm proud to be your friend.

PELLEY: The United States is going to be in Iraq for years to come. Afghanistan is not going well. Osama bin Laden is at large. And the economy is slipping into recession.

MCCAIN: Mm-hmm.

PELLEY: How do you make a case for a third Republican term?

MCCAIN: I can make a case that a less government, lower taxes, less regulation, safer America is what I can give America. But I don't underestimate the size of the challenge.

PELLEY: Senator Obama calls you a genuine American hero who represents the politics of yesterday.

MCCAIN: Yeah. That's a pretty good line, I think, and I -- and I understand that. And my response, of course, is that I have the experience and the knowledge and the background to make the judgments that are necessary to move this nation forward and make it safe.

PELLEY: You're saying that Senator Obama doesn't have the experience, that he's too naive to be president.

MCCAIN: No, I'm saying that I have that. And if the phone rings at 3 A.M., I think the American people would want me to answer it first.

PELLEY: But no one had expected him to be around to take that call. Moderates didn't like McCain's support for the surge in Iraq. Conservatives didn't like his plan for citizenship for illegal immigrants. Contributions dried up. Before New Hampshire, he burned through a $3 million loan that he had secured with a life insurance policy. What was the darkest moment?

MCCAIN: There were so many, it's hard to pick one out.

PELLEY: I am told that on a trip to New Hampshire, one of your aides switched you off one airline and put you on Southwest Airlines because it would save a few bucks. You were down to that. Is that true?

MCCAIN: I don't -- I don't remember the incident. It may have happened without them telling me, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me.

PELLEY: You never talked to anybody about giving it up?


PELLEY: McCain centered his campaign on what was among the most divisive issues in America, the surge in Iraq.

MCCAIN: I believe that we should not choose to lose in Iraq. We cannot...

PELLEY: When we traveled with him to Iraq last April, two-thirds of the American people were against the surge.

MCCAIN: I believe that we can succeed, and I believe the consequences of failure are catastrophic. Those who say "just withdraw," then you say, "What next?"

PELLEY: I wonder at what point do you stop doing what you think is right...


PELLEY: ...and you start doing what the majority of the American people want?

MCCAIN: Well, again, I disagree with what the majority of the American people want. Failure will lead to chaos. Withdrawal will lead to chaos.

PELLEY: That was not what the American people wanted to hear at that time.

MCCAIN: That's exactly right, it's not what they wanted to hear. I can read the polls as -- very well.

PELLEY: But you said it anyway.

MCCAIN: Well, I said at the time I'd much rather lose a campaign than lose a war. Now, more and more Americans are believing that the surge is succeeding. I'm very glad of that.

PELLEY: Surge success helped win New Hampshire, and later the conservative vote split between Romney and Huckabee. McCain won just enough conservatives, moderates, and independents to seize the momentum. It was a narrow escape for McCain; but then, that's the story of his life. As a naval aviator during Vietnam, he walked away from an accident that killed 134 others. He was shot down on his 23rd combat mission. The enemy offered to let him go because he was the son of an admiral, but McCain demanded that other Americans be released first, so he remained five and a half years. Because of torture, today he can lift his arms only so high. We asked him about American interrogation methods today. Is water boarding torture?

MCCAIN: Sure, yes, without a doubt.

PELLEY: So the United States has been torturing POWs.

MCCAIN: Yes. Scott, we prosecuted Japanese war criminals after World War II; and one of the charges brought against them, for which they were convicted, was that they water boarded Americans.

PELLEY: How did we lose our way?

MCCAIN: I don't know the answer to that. I think one of the failures maybe was not to listen more to our military leadership, including people like General Colin Powell, on this issue. If I have to follow him to the gates of Hell, I will get Osama bin Laden, and I will bring him to justice.

PELLEY: In your town hall meetings, you're fond of saying that you will follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell.


PELLEY: With respect...

MCCAIN: Mm-hmm.

PELLEY: ...following him to the gates of Hell was easy.

MCCAIN: Mm-hmm.

PELLEY: What's hard is putting several divisions of US forces on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. What are you willing to do?

MCCAIN: Well, the first thing is not to tell Osama bin Laden what I'm going to do, but I'll get him.

PELLEY: Foreign policy is McCain's specialty, but at least for now, most voters say they're worried about the economy. Back in 1992, Bill Clinton had a sign hanging in his campaign war room, a pretty famous sign. Do you recall what it said?

MCCAIN: "It's the economy, stupid." Yes.

PELLEY: Everywhere we went in Texas with you, it was about the war and foreign policy. And I wondered in those town hall meetings if you had an understanding of how concerned people are about the economy, about whether they can keep their homes, about whether they can keep their jobs.

MCCAIN: Mm-hmm. Look, these are tough times. These are very tough times.

PELLEY: How would you characterize the mortgage mess?

MCCAIN: I think it's a disaster. But let me hasten to add, Scott, I think the fundamentals of our economy are still strong.

PELLEY: What do you do for the person who just saw gasoline go from 3.25 to 3.50, on its way to $4?

MCCAIN: I would love to tell you that I have an immediate answer for that, and I don't. The only way we're going to fix it is to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil. We've got to have a crash program, an all-out effort, but I can't give you straight talk and tell you that tomorrow, I can change the price of a gallon of gas.

PELLEY: On taxes, McCain voted against the Bush tax cuts originally. Now, he wants to make them permanent. But he says that his own party has let spending go wildly out of control. Senator Clinton says that providing universal health care is quote, "a moral responsibility." Do you agree?

MCCAIN: Well, I think that's one of the big differences we have about the role of government. If you think that the government should mandate anything to the American people, then, besides a safety net, and I don't view it as a safety net, I view Medicare and Medicaid as a safety net. But to mandate that all Americans are required to do something, then that's just not within the fundamental philosophy that I have about the role of government in America.

PELLEY: Instead of government insurance, McCain proposes a $5,000 tax credit so families can buy insurance of their own. On immigration, he says that the borders should be secured first. But despite criticism from conservatives, he told us this about illegal immigrants.

MCCAIN: If they complied with some very stringent and rigid requirements, they could find themselves on a path to citizenship.

PELLEY: On Capitol Hill, he gets credit for reaching out to Democrats on big issues like immigration and campaign finance reform. But his fellow politicians are critical of his high-minded condemnation of money in politics. You point your finger at other senators and claim that there is culture of corruption on Capitol Hill. But you take money from lobbyists who have business before your committee, as other senators do. So how is it that you call the system corrupt?

MCCAIN: Well, one of the reasons why I call the system corrupt is because we have members of Congress who are in jail, who are former members of Congress. But it's not the individuals, it's the system we have today. I believe that I serve with honorable men and women. And I believe the people who bring their case to government, the overwhelming majority of them are honorable people.

PELLEY: The lobbyists?

MCCAIN: Retirees have a lobbyist, firemen have a lobbyist. Your business has a lot of lobbyists, a lot of lobbyists.

PELLEY: McCain claims he's never done a favor for money. He believes that he's being held to a higher standard because of his criticism. At 71 years old, McCain's health has been an issue. After his presidential race in 2000, he was diagnosed with the most lethal form of skin cancer. How's your health?

MCCAIN: It's excellent. It's excellent, excellent. Thank you. And we'll be doing the medical records thing with the media sometime in the next month or two.

PELLEY: There has been some criticism that you have not released your medical records.

MCCAIN: Mm-hmm.

PELLEY: You're saying in this interview that you're about to do that.

MCCAIN: Oh, I will do it in the next month or so, yeah.

PELLEY: Is it fair to say that at this point in time, there's no sign of a recurrence of cancer?

MCCAIN: Oh, no. There's none.

PELLEY: But there is an occasional recurrence of McCain's temper. We saw it again the day of our interview when he became annoyed with a reporter's questions.

MCCAIN: There's no one, and you know it, too. So, you know it. You know it, so I don't even know why you asked.

PELLEY: Some people say you have a short fuse.


PELLEY: You acknowledge that?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think I get angry when I see things go wrong. I've never been elected Ms. Congeniality. But I do believe that I can unite this party and I think the American people support somebody who still has the capacity maybe to get angry from time to time when we see something wrong.

PELLEY: Now, eight months before Election Day, McCain is running a close race. He's behind in fundraising, but he has a head start on November as the Democrats battle on. To those who say that you can't beat a Democrat in November, you say what?

MCCAIN: I say I know that I can but I also believe that America is a right-of-center nation. And I think that Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, with all due respect, are liberal Democrats, and I'm a conservative Republican. So I believe I can make a better case to the American people.

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