McCain on his trip to Mexico, Columbia; new plane. Pool report.

SHARE McCain on his trip to Mexico, Columbia; new plane. Pool report.

Juliet Eilperin / Washington Post

: Monday, June 30, 2008 6:00 PM


McCain Pool Report #3

McCain spoke at length about his upcoming trip to Latin America, as well as

delving into energy and other issues during the Straight Talk Express ride.

When asked about why he was going to tout the virtues of free trade abroad at

a time when many Americans have grown increasingly skeptical of such agreements,

the senator said he had no intention of backing away from such a longstanding


You gotta stand on principle. I believe in the principle of free trade, he

said, adding that Americans have been ill-served by the unemployment and worker

displacement programs that the federal government runs. Its terrible, he said

of the two programs.

McCain said he was determined not to follow the example of President Herbert

Hoover, who signed protectionist legislation into law. We went from a recession

into one of the great depressions of our history, he said. Ive got to

convince people that I have a plan to give them the kind of education and

training they need.

McCain said he hoped to achieve several goals with his upcoming trade,

including thanking the leaders of Colombia and Mexico for their work on the drug

trade, and to pledge my continued cooperation with them. But he added that he

would also press them to make further progress.

I would also urge them, in the case of Mexico, to reform their economy, to

ensure that its a more open and competitive economy, he said, adding he would

also urge them to curb the flow of illegal immigrants to the U.S. It would be

so much easier if we had the ability to trust our neighbors to the south as much

as we trust our neighbors to the north, in terms of border security.

Also, Id like to tell them Id pay a lot of attention to them as

president, McCain added. I think its important our friends and neighbors

understand our commitment to them. What happens in Columbia and Mexico is very

important to the future of America.

The senator spoke in detail about the recent assassination of the acting head

of Mexicos federal judicial police, who has killed just outside his home

despite the fact that he lived in a secret location. The alleged killer had the

keys to the police chiefs house at the time of the murder

This is really a serious situation in Mexico, he said. I think its an

important time right now. This is scary.

McCain was less critical of the Colombian government and its human rights

record, which has come under fire for intimidating and harming political

opponents, including labor leaders. The senator said they while there were

human rights abuses by the paramilitaries and these people need to be brought to

justice, no matter who they are or where they are, he said that had to be

viewed in the context of the Colombian presidents battle against domestic


But I balance that against Uribe and his administrations rescue of Colombia

from a failed state status, he said, adding it did not justify the need to

throw out the entire theory of free trade Failure to ratify the free trade

agreement sends a message throughout the hemisphere: If youre a friend of the

United States, dont count on them.

When asked how closely his policies meshed with President Bush, McCain did

not answer the question directly, instead saying, Im also closely aligned with

President Clinton. President Clinton is the one who signed the free trade

agreement with North America.

McCain said he understood that the trip might carry some political risks for

him. I understand its very tough. Im the underdog in this race, he said,

adding that to change his position on trade would undermine his relationship

with voters who trust him. The most precious commodity I have in this race is

that sense of trust.

And even as he vowed not to attack Obama while overseas, McCain said he would

repeatedly question his opponents position of trade pacts while in the U.S.

Hes against them all, he said. I dont understand how you can be fore free

trade and be against every free trade agreement.

Going to Latin America in the midst of a presidential campaign, he said,

speaks less to his role as a senator than to what hes hoping to achieve if

elected this fall. Its more my ability to govern as president, he said, my

ability to lead as president, to keep up with these major issues.

McCain also outlined a sort of compassionate, realpolitik approach to

international affairs, saying that he believed this U.S. worked hard to promote

human rights abroad but also ensured that it pursued realistic goals.

We cant right every wrong and achieve every laudable goal, he said, using

Dafur as an example of where many Americans want to act, but have yet to

identify a reasonable course of action.

How can we bring pressure on the government of Somalia? he asked, which

prompted Mark Salter to correct him,. Sudan, Salter said.

Sudan, McCain repeated. Theres a realpolitik side of my view of the

conduct of American foreign policy.

The presumptive GOP nominee also spoke of his desire to speed up the

licensing of nuclear power plants, saying he did not understand why it took a

decade to get a plant up and running in the U.S., as opposed to five years in

Europe. His commitment to ensuring loan guarantees for nuclear power plants, he

argued, did not amount to a subsidy.

I really think what were providing is some incentives and some rewards, I

dont think Im picking winning and losers, he said. Im trying to stimulate a

thousand flowers. I really mean that.

McCain also spoke a bit about how he would reach out to former supporters of

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). Noting that he did not like to categorize voters

into blocs, he said he could see how certain issues would appeal to women, such

as the environment. I think the issue of climate change, which weve been

heavily engaged in, is one of the areas where I hope to appeal to them.

He added that he hoped to woo former Clintonites with his ability to reach

across the aisle and to put my country first, above politics, above party,

above anything.

On less serious topics, McCain said he liked his new campaign plane (I like

it fine) but had already noticed it lacks the in-flight entertainment of his

JetBlue charter.

We used to have television sets on JetBlue, he said. I miss out on my fix,

especially when we have those long flights.

McCain was not aware that his name was on the plane itself, but seemed amuse

to learn that particular fact. I feel wonderful, he said, about having his

name emblazoned on the planes tail. What is it, a flying billboard?

McCain also noted, with regret, that while nearly all of his children would

be joining him and Cindy to celebrate the Fourth of July in Sedona, they would

not be lighting fireworks. The local police department used to monitor the

McCain familys patriotic, pyromaniac celebration, but its no longer safe in

light of the regions drought.

Arizona just doesnt allow it anymore, he said.

Cindy McCain noted that she had devised a different form of entertainment

this year. Were having a whiffleball tournament, she said.

Juliet Eilperin

Washington Post

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