After Sen. John McCain announced he would suspend his campaign in order to focus on his congressional work ironing out the $700 billion bailout package - and proposed delaying the first presidential debate - he came to the CBS News broadcast center to explain the politics of the situation to CBS News Anchor Katie Couric. What follows is a complete transcript of their interview.
Katie Couric: Sen. McCain, why is it necessary for you to take this extraordinary step of suspending your campaign?
John McCain: 'Cause these are extraordinary times. The financial crisis is on the verge of a very, very serious, most serious crisis since the end of World War II. That's according to Mr. Bernanke, Secretary Paulson and others. Any expert. This is a most serious situation. And it could … not only be United States markets, but world markets as well.
Couric: In fact, you met with economists this morning, and a number of financial experts, and it seems to me they really shook you up.
McCain: All they did, really, was confirm what we're already hearing from people we most admire and respect in America. The most respected people. I don't, in fact, I don't know anyone that doesn't believe that … this crisis is of such enormous proportions that it has the possibility, I don't think it's gonna, 'cause I think we're gonna act, but could have the possibility of wrecking the economy in ways that we've never contemplated.
Couric: Do you and Sen. Obama agree to the changes that need to be made in this bailout package?
McCain: We certainly agree the some. We said - we have - we have some, not all. But, certainly some. We have some common ground, yes.
Couric: And what are your primary objections to the way it stands right now?
McCain: There are numerous ones. One is that there's not the transparency that I think is necessary. I think we need to have, clearly, oversight. People that we respect and admire from both parties. Like Mayor Bloomberg of New York … and Mitt Romney and others … to oversight this.
And I also think we need to seriously consider something along the lines of what we had during the Depression. To guarantee home loans. I think that's necessary. There are a number of other measures that I think need to be taken in order to convince the American people that a trillion dollars or $700 billion, depending on who you talk to, of their money, that's $10,000 per family in America.
Couric: I know that Sen. Obama initially called you this morning at 8:30 to talk about issuing a joint statement about this bailout. You decided to go a step further by suspending your campaign and asking that Friday debate be delayed. Political observers say whoever gets out front on this issue will benefit the most in November. Was this an effort to do that? And was this at all, Senator, politically motivated?
McCain: Well, I don't think, at this time, that we can worry much about politics, Katie. I think the American people expect more of us. And I would hope that we would respond that way. Senator Obama called this morning. We - I called him back. We discussed that we do agree, and I'd be glad … to join in a common press release or statement, but now is not the time for statements. Time is now to act. And … most experts …
Couric: Did you suggest suspending both of your campaigns?
McCain: Yes. Sure. Yeah. I said …
Couric: And what was his response?
McCain: Well, I'd - I, frankly, I think he … has to consider it. I don't know if he had considered it or not. But I did tell him that I thought we both ought to do that. On the subject of delaying the debates, we've got 41 days left in this campaign. We could move it up a few days. Because we know we have to act. Everybody that I, well, look, it's clear to me we have to act before the weekend. We have to show the markets, the world markets, that we're gonna address this issue seriously.
Couric: Sen. Obama said, when he spoke to the press earlier today, he said, "With regard to debates it's my belief is that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who, in approximately 40 days, will be responsible for dealing with this mess."
McCain: Well, you know, it's funny because I asked Sen. Obama months ago to go to town - hold town hall meetings around the country. I said, "I'll fly," well, "I'll …co-provide the airplane." I asked him to go to town hall meetings every other day to … the cities around America, and he refused.
He refused to do that. Although I've repeated, and still request that he would do that. So it's interesting that, somehow, that he wouldn't engage in town hall meetings and discussions with … me with the American people. But, look … I hope that we can get this thing resolved tomorrow. We could … it resolved tomorrow. And I hope that we would do that in a bipartisan fashion. We have to for the American people.
Couric: How optimistic, though, are you, senator, that something will get hammered out?
McCain: I believe the options are so dire, and the consequences of failure to act, are that I believe we'll come to an agreement. And I believe we can do it quickly. And we must do it. This is not just gonna affect Wall Street. This will affect every family in America. This will have a ripple effect throughout our economy, particularly as far as jobs are concerned … that would be so harmful.
Couric: Since this is such a huge issue, Sen. McCain, what about changing the subject of Friday's debate, which was to have been focused on foreign policy, and switch it to the economy?
McCain: Well, I think they are connected. But … let's worry about that, if we decide to do the debates or not. Certainly energy independence is something that is there are a lot of commonality of the issues … that will be addressed … in the debates that … are ahead of us. And, look, I look forward to them. I've always enjoyed them.
Couric: Let me ask you about a new Washington Post poll. It shows Sen. Obama recapturing the lead in the race. And that more people trust him on handling the economy. What's your reaction to that? And why do you think that's the case?
McCain: Well, I'm the underdog. I've always been the - I've always been the underdog. And I enjoy being the underdog. And we're gonna campaign hard, and I think we're gonna be up late on election night. So, obviously, one of my response is we've seen other polls that have the have the race virtually tied. But, look, whenever I see a poll that isn't favorable to me [laughter] I say, "That's a terrible poll. And there's no reason to pay any attention to it." And then [unintelligible] "Oh, these pollsters are really smart people."
Couric: They are brilliant.
McCain: Yeah. [laughter]
Couric: In our new poll, speaking of polls, President Bush has a 16 percent approval rating when it comes to the economy. Does that make it more difficult for you because you are Republican, even though you're keeping that on the down low sometimes?
McCain: Oh yeah. Yes. Yeah.
Couric: Does it make it more difficult for you to really distinguish yourself on this issue?
McCain: Yes. Well, I think the purposes of campaigns are to present myself. I understand that the tactic of the opposition, I understand it is, is to try to tie me closely to President Bush. I understand that. And my job, as a campaigner, is to show my record where we've had differences on everything from the conduct of the Iraq War to climate change to spending. And really, the most important thing is give them a positive vision for the future of this country. And they're paying attention. And I'm glad of that.
McCain: Earlier today, senator, I, and she told me that if action is not taken a Great Depression is, quote, "The road that America may find itself on." Do you agree with that assessment?
McCain: I don't know … if it's exactly the Depression. But I know of no expert, including Mr. Bernanke, the head of the Federal Reserve, and our secretary of treasury, and the outside observers ... every respected economist … in this country is saying, "You better address this problem, and you better do it now, or the consequences, obviously, of inaction are of the utmost seriousness." So I agree … with Gov. Palin. There's so much at stake here. That's why I am confident that we'll sit down and work together on this thing.
Couric: But isn't so much of this, Sen. McCain, about consumer confidence?
Couric: And using rhetoric like the "Great Depression," is that the kind of language Americans need to hear right now?
McCain: Well, listen, I've heard language from respected people: "oh, we're staring at the abyss." I've heard all kinds of things from people. I don't think we need to scare people. But I certainly think we need to tell them the truth. And tell them what's at stake here.
Couric: And everyone says, and I say, this is the greatest crisis since the end of World War II. You cannot … I mean, to tell it, American citizens that everything's fine, I think just would be, that would be outright deception. I think it's of the utmost … seriousness. And this is a crisis of enormous proportions. But we can fix it. And America's best days are still ahead of us.
Couric: Last week you claimed the fundamentals of the economy were strong … as you know. [Laughter] Now you're sending your campaign, your running mate and you, are using words like depression. Why the change in attitude?
McCain: Well, first of all, I said we're in a serious crisis. I was talking, obviously, about the workers of America. They're the most productive and the most innovative. They're the best. And they are the heart and soul of our economy.
And I believe that we can and we must have our better days ahead of us. But we've got to take decisions. And one of them is government spending, by the way. One of the major reasons why we're having difficulties is because we let spending get completely out of control. Earmark and pork-barrel projects. Sen. Obama asked for over $900 million in earmark … pork barrel projects. That's not part of the answer. That's part of the problem.
Couric: Well, you're running mate has asked for her fair share of pork barrel projects too.
McCain: And she's cut them out. And she has vetoed a half a billion dollars worth of earmark projects. And I'm very proud of her record of cutting spending and giving taxpayers' dollars back to them in the state of Alaska.
Couric: Finally, Sen. McCain, I'm curious, as far as talking to people out on the campaign trail, are they mad as hell about this bailout plan?
McCain: I think that people want to know where $700 billion, or a trillion dollars, is gonna go. And I think Americans are ready to act. But they have to be convinced that it's gonna be effective. And that we're not gonna turn around [in a] month or two or six months or a year and ask them … for another resolution to this problem.
I think the American people have every right to demand to know exactly what's going on. That's why I think transparency and accountability and a number of other steps have to be taken in order to make sure the American people know that their tax dollars are being used wisely.