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Sen. John McCain Addresses a Town Hall Meeting in New Mexico

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008; 5:01 PM

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MCCAIN: ... immigrants won a gold medal in wrestling from right here in Las Cruces, Henry Cejudo, I believe is the proper pronunciation. (APPLAUSE)

And I would point out that he grew up in Arizona, also, but as a mediocre high school and wrestler and at the Naval Academy, I am especially admiring of the first gold medal the United States has gotten in 16 years. And I know you're proud of Henry.

And if you saw his last night, it was quite moving, his statement about how proud he was to be an American. It was very nice, very nice.

So I want to thank all of you at New Mexico State. And tonight, there's a great program going on, Pete Domenici Public Policy forum. And I think it's -- it's great that we honor Pete Domenici, a great member of the United States Senate and a great servant of this nation. And I thank you for...

(APPLAUSE)

... for your support of him for many, many years. And so I want to say thanks for being here.

I'd like to make a few comments. And then I'd like to do what this is supposed to be all about, and that is listen to your questions, your comments, your concerns, your views, your ideas. That's what town hall meetings are supposed to be. That's -- that's what I think America should be about.

And I'm sorry that Senator Obama is not here with me today. I asked a long time ago for Senator Obama to come and come to town hall meetings with me. A little bit of history is that Barry Goldwater and Jack Kennedy had agreed to fly around the country, to town hall meetings all over America. Unfortunately, the tragedy of Dallas intervened.

But that's what -- that's what it's supposed to be about, not the sound bites, not the various attack ads, and all the stuff that seems to go on, which I don't think inform the American people very well.

Saturday night, I had the opportunity at least to respond to the same questions that Senator Obama had, and I think the American people have made a judgment on that. So...

(APPLAUSE)

So I just want to speak briefly with you about a couple of issues. And, first of all, you know that I've been called a maverick. Sometimes it's meant as a compliment; sometimes it's not. But it means that I understand who I work for. I work -- I don't work for a party. I don't work for a president. And I don't work for a special interest. I work -- I don't work for myself. I work for you and the country that I love.

And that's what I've been about all my life, and that's...

(APPLAUSE) And I spoke up against my party for out-of-control spending. I think you all know that we've spent money in a way that has mortgages our children's future. It's disgraceful. It's disgraceful.

You know, Ronald Reagan used to say, "Congress spends money like a drunken sailor, only I never knew a sailor drunk or sober with the imagination of Congress," and that's a pretty funny line. And I use it fairly often.

I use it so often -- I'm not making this up when I tell you I got an e-mail from a guy that said, "As a former drunken sailor, I resent being compared to members of Congress."

(LAUGHTER)

So I spoke up against the pork-barrel spending, and it's going to stop. I spoke up against the administration for their mistakes in Iraq. And I fought for the surge that's going to bring our troops home with victory and honor, not in defeat, as Senator Obama wanted to happen.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, I'd like to talk to you just for a couple of minutes about what you all know has been going on in a small, little country far away from the United States of America, the country of Georgia.

Georgia was one of the first Christian nations. In the third century, the king of Georgia converted to Christianity. If you go to Georgia, it's a beautiful little country. There's churches that go back to the fourth and fifth century.

It was part of this -- of the Russian empire. Then they became part of the Soviet Union. They broke free, and they had a terribly corrupt government. And there's a young man named Saakashvili who went to school in the United States of America. He went to George Washington University, and then he went to Columbia, which, by the way, where my daughter, Meghan, went to school.

So, Meghan, please, thank you. And tell about the tuition costs there.

(APPLAUSE)

I'm very -- I'm very proud of her achievements. And anybody who knows of openings for art history majors, please let me know after -- I'm very proud that she was able to go to such a wonderful school and get a great education.

But so did -- so did Misha Saakashvili. And he came back to Georgia, and there was a whole bunch of other young people like him who wanted democracy and freedom. They had a corrupt government headed by a guy named Shevardnadze, who you may remember from the days of the Cold War.

And they had a peaceful revolution, and they took over, and they were putting democracy and freedom and human rights. And they were prospering. And guess who didn't like it? Vladimir Putin didn't like it.

So, you know, we'll read about it in the history books, but we'll go through it, and as we parse what happened, and I'm sure that there was some provocation. But the fact is, Russian aggression was overwhelming, brutal, looting, murder, killing, and they still to this day, even though having signed a cease-fire agreement, are not leaving.

Why do we care? Of course we always care about any country in the world where democracy and freedom is maybe strangled in the cradle. But we also care because of what happens in the region.

The old Russian ambition pre-dating the Soviet Union is to control that part of the world. It's not an accident that five presidents of five countries, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, all came -- all came to Tbilisi when that country was under attack. And they did it because they know that their country is going to be under pressure from the Russians, as well, and Ukraine especially.

And why else do we care? There's a pipeline that goes through -- goes through that -- goes through Georgia, which is literally -- well, is, for all intents and purposes, the only oil pipeline that doesn't go through Russia. You have seen the Russians use oil as a weapon.

When the Czechs agreed with us to put some missile defense radars in their country, the Russians cut back on their oil supplies. So it's also got to do with energy. It's got to do with energy, as well, and world markets.

And one thing I want to assure you of is that I will, as president of the United States, achieve energy independence. We cannot afford to send $700 billion a year overseas to countries who don't like us very much.

(APPLAUSE)

And so keep the brave Georgians in your thoughts and prayers. And we have to take certain actions as to whether Russia should be in the World Trade Organization, whether they should be in the G-8, or now, I hope, be G-7, and other actions that need to be taken.

But this kind of provocation is not acceptable in the 21st century, an activity. And just let me remind you -- and I do not make any predictions -- I hope that we can modify Russian behavior -- but I would remind you that wars -- those of us that study history, wars and conflicts have started at other obscure places in the world. And we want to keep this one under control.

Yesterday, I was at an oil rig. Yesterday, I was at an oil rig off-shore in Louisiana. It was quite an impressive technological marvel. They -- I think it's 10,000 barrels a day of oil come through that oil rig. And so my point is that they do it off the coast of Louisiana, they do it off the coast of Texas, and we need to drill off-shore, and we need to do it now off our shores. And we can become energy independent.

(APPLAUSE)

Senator Obama says he wants energy independence, but he's opposed to new drilling at home, he's opposed to nuclear power. My friends, we have to have nuclear power. Nuclear power has got to be part of any way of us being energy independent.

(APPLAUSE)

Why should it take the French five years to build their nuclear power plants and us 10 or more? And, by the way, the French now reprocess their spent nuclear fuel. We can do that. We could do that. Eighty percent of the French electricity is generated by nuclear power. Now, we always want to be like the French, but the fact is...

(LAUGHTER)

By the way, in case you missed it, we now have a pro-American president of France, which shows you, if you live long enough, anything can happen in the world. But the fact is, we need nuclear power.

But we need all of the above. We need wind, tide, solar. Where better place for solar than New Mexico and Arizona? Wind, tide, solar, nuclear, natural gas. We need all of the above.

America sits on the largest reserves of coal in the world. We can develop clean-coal technology and become independent. We cannot afford this. We cannot afford this.

And, you know, a lot of times I hear that, you know, we can't do this, we can't reprocess, we can't store, we can't build nuclear power plants, we can't drill off-shore, we can't do this, we can't -- that's not America. That's not what America is all about. We've met every challenge, and we can do it, and we will do it. And as president, we will do it.

(APPLAUSE)

Well, so, anyway, Senator Obama thinks that raising taxes on oil is going to bring down the price at the pump. He's claiming that putting air in your tires is the equivalent of new off-shore drilling. Now, that's not an energy plan. That's a public service announcement.

And I'm all for it, by the way, but to think that it's going to replace off-shore drilling obviously is not something we agreed to. And, again, biofuels, others, and, finally, we're going to solve this problem, as I said, by all of the above.

Now, on Iraq, Senator Obama says he wants peace, but he still opposes the surge that succeeded. He opposed the surge. He said that it wouldn't work. He announced his policy towards Iraq the day before he left for the first time in over 900 days to visit Iraq and then refuses to acknowledge that the surge has succeeded. Remarkable. Remarkable.

I mean, no rational observer could go to Iraq and see what we've succeeded in doing in the last two years and say that the surge hasn't succeeded. That's what this is all about, my friends. This is what it's all about, securing our nation. Even in retrospect, with all we know today, he'd still choose the path of retreat and failure.

You know, yesterday, Senator Obama got a little testy on this issue. He said I'm questioning his patriotism. Let me be very clear: I am not questioning his patriotism. I am questioning his judgment. I am questioning his judgment.

(APPLAUSE)

Senator Obama has made it clear he values withdrawal from Iraq above victory in Iraq. Even today, with victory in sight, over and over again, he's advocated unconditional withdrawal, regardless of the facts on the ground. And he voted against funding for troops in combat after he said it would be wrong to do so.

He's made these decisions not because he doesn't love America, but because he doesn't think it matters whether America wins or loses. I'm going to end this war, and I'm going to bring them home, and they'll come home with honor in victory, leaving Iraq secured as a democratic ally in the Arab heartland. That's what I'm going to do.

(APPLAUSE)

So beyond all the commercials and all the words and the campaign back-and-forth, Senator Obama's agenda can be summarized at this: Government is too big; he wants to grow it. Taxes are too high; he wants to raise them. Congress spends too much, and he proposes more. We need more energy, and he's against producing it. We're finally -- we're finally winning in Iraq, and he wants to forfeit.

The bottom line is that Senator Obama's words, for all their eloquence and passion, doesn't mean all that much. And that's the problem with Washington. It's not just the Bush administration and it's not just the Democratic Congress. It's that everybody in Washington says whatever it takes to get elected or to score the political point of the day.

So I want to assure you we don't need another politician in Washington who puts self-interest and political expediency ahead of problem-solving. We want to start putting our country first and come together to keep American families safe and help them realize their dreams for a better life.

(APPLAUSE)

So with that, I'd like -- I'd like to stop by just saying, again, when we have an energy crisis and you're paying $3.75, $4 a gallon for gas, whatever it is, people who are the lowest income Americans are driving the furthest in the oldest automobiles, bearing a crushing blow. What does Congress do? Five-week vacation. Five-week vacation.

My friends, if I were president of the United States -- and when I'm president of the United States -- I'll call them back to town and tell them to go to work and solve America's energy problems and start going to work for America. And do it...

(APPLAUSE)

And do it in a bipartisan fashion. Can't we work together for the good of America? Can't we reach our hand out to each other and work together?

(APPLAUSE)

My whole life, my friends, I've put my country first. I want to assure you, as president of the United States, I will put my country first.

With that, I want to say thanks for coming, and we'd like to respond to any questions or comments that you have. And we have a person right there, if you'd bring the microphones. We had a microphone person, I think. Well, since we don't have a microphone person, I'll give you mine.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. First, I want to say you really were fantastic at the Rick Warren forum. And one of the reasons was your answers weren't memorized...

(UNKNOWN): (OFF-MIKE)

QUESTION: Your answers weren't memorized. They were your core values. They were from your heart, and that's great.

In the early '90s, the Soviet Union's economy was in shambles. And by less than 20 years later, they're a strong, dynamic, vibrant economy, building up their military with oil reserves.

What is it going to take for Nancy Pelosi and Senator Reid to get out of their cone of silence, OK, and listen to you and the American people and drill here, drill now, pay less? What is it going to take for something like that to happen?

MCCAIN: Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

It may take an election. And let me just say, where -- may have missed a comment, but Russia now has -- is a very wealthy country. They're only wealthy for one reason, one reason, over $100-a-barrel price of oil. That's the only reason why the Russian economy is strong.

In fact, some of their things that they've done, driving major corporations out of their country and some of the other measures that they're taking, makes them more and more dependent on the petro- dollars.

But, my friends, it really is another compelling argument for us to become energy independent. We are the world's largest consumer of oil. So if we become independent, then it's obviously going to lower the price of oil. I mean, it's just -- it's simple mathematics and economics.

So I think that the Europeans are moving in that direction, as well, because they don't like this dependency on Russian oil. But for a period of time, they're going to be. They're going to be. And so the United States of America obviously has to embark on the -- in the path that I just mentioned.

And that really does mean, again, all of the above. Natural gas is great. You may have seen Boone Pickens' commercials. You should have. He's spending millions of dollars on them. And he's right. He's right. But I also would add that not only is he right, but also we need all those other things, as well.

And, finally, could I just say, I think the automotive industry in America has a shot with hybrid electric and flex-fuel cars to regain their supremacy. I really do, because we still have the most productive workers in the world in -- residing in the United States of America.

Next question?

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: First of all, as a student attending New Mexico State University who's also declared a French major, I'd like to thank you for being here today. I also would like to add on to that last man's comment. I think you did an amazing job at the forum. I was very, very impressed with your answers. I thought you did an amazing job.

I also would like to ask my question is, is that the -- what is your plan of attack to actually help make these pork-barrel legislations be completely done away with, for the most part? Because millions of U.S. tax dollars are wasted yearly on these.

And I'd also like to thank you for not actually voting for any of these legislations for yourself.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

My friends, for a long time, we thought that, quote, "pork- barrel" earmark spending was just some powerful member of Congress that got a project for his home state or his or her district and it wasn't a big deal. Well, now it is like any other evil, it's grown and grown and grown and grown.

Tens of billions, billions and billions of dollars, and they're for projects that we neither want nor need. And you know what my friend Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma calls it? He calls it a gateway drug. It's a gateway to corruption.

And I don't say that word lightly, but we have former members of Congress residing in federal prison who embarked in this process and ended up basically selling their -- themselves for various earmark projects. And it's like any other evil. Any other evil we all know in life, you either eradicate it or it grows.

And that's what's happened with this pork-barrel spending. You know, the other night, I joked about the -- one of my favorites, the $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. Now, as I said, I don't know if it's a paternity issue or a criminal issue, but it -- but it makes you laugh and it makes you cry, because it's your money.

It's your money; $233 million for a bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it. How do you justify that when next time you're stuck in traffic? And so -- so...

(APPLAUSE)

And it's your money. So let me say this. The time is ripe in America for us, one, to stop that, two, for us to work together, work together for the good of the country in these difficult times.

I was asked this morning by someone who said, "Well, China is going to be a bigger and more powerful country than the United States of America." I said, "I don't accept that. I don't accept that." I think that the most productive and best and most -- most innovative part of the United States of America is the United States of America.

And, by the way, there's another person here who I'd like for you to say hello to. And I think she is -- I don't see -- Meg Whitman is here. Meg, where are you?

(UNKNOWN): (OFF-MIKE)

MCCAIN: That's Meg Whitman. Meg Whitman, as you know, is the CEO of eBay.

(APPLAUSE)

These numbers are roughly correct. Twelve years ago, there were five people that worked for eBay. Today, 1.5 million people make a living off eBay.

Now, you tell Meg Whitman that America's best days are behind us. I don't think -- I don't think -- I think she can make a case that that's -- that that's not true.

So all I can say is that -- that I've got an old pen that Ronald Reagan gave me years ago. And I'm going to veto every one of these bills. And I'm going to -- you're going to know their names. I will make them famous. You'll know every one of them's names. And if they override my veto, I'll veto the next one. That's how we're going to do it. (APPLAUSE)

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: I heard -- I heard a rumor that you're going to pick a pro-life V.P. Is that true?

MCCAIN: Thank you. We're going through the process. I said on Saturday night that I have a proud pro-life record in Congress.

(APPLAUSE)

And I am proud of that. I respect the views of others, but I also happen to believe that the noblest words ever written in history were those that said, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all of us are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life" -- I think liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I believe that life applies to those that are not born, as well as those that are born.

(APPLAUSE)

And so -- so -- so we're not talking about the process of the vice presidential situation, except that I would remind you that the vice president of the United States really only has two duties, when you think about it. One is in case there's a tie vote in the Senate, he comes to the floor -- he or she comes to the floor of the Senate and casts the tie-breaking vote. That's the constitutional duty.

The other duty of the vice president of the United States is to inquire daily as to the health of the president. So that will obviously make my pick very important.

Yes, ma'am? Yes, ma'am? He's going to bring it right there. These are work-release program people here, so they're doing a great job.

QUESTION: Yes, Senator McCain, I truly hope you get the opportunity to chase bin Laden right to the gates of Hell and push him in, as you stated on your forum. I do have a question, though.

The disabled veterans, especially in this state, have horrible conditions. Their medical is substandard. They drive four hours one way to Albuquerque for a simple doctor's appointment, which is often canceled. Our V.A. hospital is dirty. It's understaffed. It's running on maximum overload.

The prescription medicines are 10 years behind standard medical care. We have 700 claims stacked up at the V.A. office in Albuquerque. Some of them are 10 and 7 years old, waiting to be processed. In the meantime, these people are homeless.

My son is an officer in the Air Force. I'm a vet, and I was raised in a military family. And I think it's a sorry state of affairs when we have illegal aliens having a Medicaid card that can access specialist, top physicians, the best of medical, and our vets can't even get to a doctor.

And these are the people that we tied yellow ribbons for and Bush patted on the back. If we don't re-enact the draft, I don't think we'll have anyone to chase Bin Laden to the gates of Hell.

MCCAIN: Ma'am, let me say that...

(APPLAUSE)

... I don't disagree with anything you said. And thank you. And I'm grateful for your support of all of our veterans.

I carry with me quite often a quote from General -- from George Washington. In 1789, he said, "The willingness with which young Americans will serve their country in future wars is directly related to the treatment of those who have previously served and sacrificed in conflict." He was right in 1789, and he's right today.

All too often, our veterans are -- do not receive the care that they have earned. And the scandal of Walter Reed is a blot on the honor of the United States of America, and we can never let it happen again.

Now, here's -- here's what I...

(APPLAUSE)

... make as short as possible, our veterans have earned our highest priority. And yet we know that there is also routine health care needs that veterans have that, in my view, they should not have to go to the V.A. to receive, OK?

We have, tragically and unfortunately in this war, a dramatic -- well, we're going to have a lot of PTSD. We also have severe combat injuries, because thank God we're able to get the wounded from the battlefield to medical treatment more quickly than anytime in history. But that puts an increased burden on our medical -- military medical care, as well as our V.A.

So you mentioned Albuquerque V.A., I believe. I could take you to the Albuquerque V.A. or the Phoenix V.A. quite often, and the waiting room is crowded. The veterans are standing in line to stand in line to get an appointment, to get an appointment.

That's not the fault of the people that work there. The people that work there are some of the finest in the world. It's just that they are overloaded.

So we have to focus our attention, expand our capability to treat PTSD, combat-related injuries, brain injuries, et cetera, that we're best at. And for a veteran with a routine health care need, why shouldn't we give that veteran a card and take it to the health care provider or the doctor of their choice, and get the routine health care that they need?

(APPLAUSE) That's -- that's -- that's what...

(APPLAUSE)

And that way we could utilize the V.A. and medical -- the military medical system to its greatest effect and also relieve this burden. I don't ever again want to have a veteran to stand in line, to stand in line, to get an appointment, to get an appointment. That's not -- that's just not acceptable in America.

And, again, I do praise the people who work there. They're some of the most dedicated people I've ever known in my life. The problem is there are just not enough of them.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Senator McCain, first of all, I'd like to say thank you for coming to Las Cruces. And Senator Obama tends to be the favorite among college students. And as a college student, I feel that you do care about us, because we are the future of America.

So I'd like to give you a brief respite from political questions and controversy and ask you what the single best piece of advice you can give college students with political aspirations.

(LAUGHTER)

(UNKNOWN): Political advice to college students with political aspirations.

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, obviously, get involved. The future of this country rests with you. I would not be running for president of the United States if it was not that I believe the next generation of Americans deserve a better, freer, more prosperous nation than the one that I inherited.

I think that now you have enormously increased ways of communicating over the Internet. Whether you happen to like blogs or not like blogs, the fact is that they have changed politics in America in many ways. The dialogue and the discussion and the broadening of it has been enormous.

I also think that you ought to be associated either with a campaign or a cause that you believe in. I think there's nothing more illuminating, there's nothing more educational, and there's nothing more beneficial than to support something that -- that you believe in, in a political campaign, and watch -- and watch this flawed and problem-filled process of ours go forward and the American people reach decisions and conclusions, and pick their leaders, and decide on our future.

And I hope that -- that the message to all young Americans, as well as all, but particularly the next generation, is that it does matter, it does matter what decisions are made now, because the decisions made now are going to directly impact your future and your children and your grandchildren. I'm happy, frankly, with the new means of communication that we have, the Internet and a lot of other ways, and a proliferation of television camera -- channels, and a lot of other things that we now have greater sources of information and knowledge.

Some of them I strenuously disagree with, but the fact is that all I can say -- that I believe, as president of the United States, my first job is to inspire a generation of Americans to serve a cause greater than their self-interests. And I believe that that is true of America today probably more than at anytime in the past.

You look at the men and women in the military. You look at Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Teach for America. You look at all of these volunteer activities that young Americans have engaged in, that it's my job to provide them with the ability to participate. And thank you for being here. Thank you.

Yes, sir? Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Thank you for coming out. In the past, you've alienated a great deal of conservatives who believe that conservative principles are always the answer by stepping across the aisle. And the third point of a vice president is the opportunity to groom himself to be president in the next cycle.

Are you going to pick a conservative...

MCCAIN: Or the cycle after that. Yes.

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: Perhaps. Are you going to pick a vice president that conservatives can actually rally around in the future? Or are you going to give us someone who will cause us to want to stay home, perhaps? Thank you.

MCCAIN: Well, sir, may I say, at least according to the polling data we have, we're doing very well with our base. We have a lot more work to do to energize our base. We also have to energize our base who cares a lot about our lack of fiscal responsibility who are very angry.

We're also...

(APPLAUSE)

We're also going to have to energize our base that cares about this nation's security, which is probably -- and when we look at the many challenges we face, are probably very significant.

I will choose a president -- I will nominate a -- a person to be vice president, my running mate, who shares my principles, my values, and my priorities. And that...

(APPLAUSE)

And that's the best that I -- that I can tell you. Thank you very much.

Yes, ma'am. Here she comes. This is the slowest one here.

QUESTION: I want to...

MCCAIN: She's from Phoenix. That's why.

QUESTION: I want to thank you not just coming from -- to Las Cruces, but I know you landed in El Paso, so you get to see the border. And I am from El Paso. My husband was a former mayor of El Paso, and he used to say that when (inaudible) sneezes, El Paso was catching a cold.

So I want to thank you again. And my question deals with health care.

My husband was diagnosed with a brain disorder, the same one that afflicted Senator Domenici. And at 51, he did not have long-term care and it was so devastating that it totally destroyed our finances. So I had to take him to my family's country home, which is Spain.

I got to see firsthand how social care was so much affordable. He was a fighter, although it undermined his muscles. He lost his voice. I was able to provide better care for him in another country than in our own.

And so I want to know about your health care plan, how can it be affordable? How can we change that? Why did I have to take him some place else so he could die in a better place than in his own country?

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: Thank you. And please accept the sympathy of all of us. And thank you for his service. I'm very grateful.

There is a health care crisis in America. We would be, if it were not for the energy crisis, we'd be talking a lot more about health care issues.

And we have to reform health care in America. And we have to make insurance available and affordable for all Americans.

I do not believe that that means a government-run health care system is the most efficient...

(APPLAUSE)

... or what we need. And we need to have policies that encourage home health care as opposed to institutionalized care. And we need to treat people on an outcome basis that don't pay for every test or every procedure, every visit to the doctor, but treat them for a period of time, and then pay that provider.

Give -- there's a -- there's a program now for senior citizens that is -- that is not as wide as I'd like to see, where it's called Cash & Counseling. And seniors are given money every month, and then they're able to decide how they want to pay for their own health care. It's remarkable the savings that have been realized.

But in cases like your husband, where they're basically "uninsurables," quote, "uninsurables," people with chronic diseases and such as the terrible affliction that befell your husband -- and I know he appreciated your love and care -- but we should have what we call government-approved plans so that we pool federal and state money together and establish wide risk pools so that there is affordable and available health insurance for people like you and your husband.

We cannot leave the, quote, "uninsurables" or chronic disease victims without the access to care. And so it's going to have to be a federal and state combination, providing significant federal money from the federal government, and we are going to have to have that as a major part of health care reform, because we can't allow any American, any American citizen to experience what your husband experienced.

And I'm sorry that it happened. And I -- please accept my deep sympathy and our prayers. I thank you for his service. Thank you, and God bless you.

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: Thank you, Senator McCain, for coming. Also, we pray for you every day, my family and I, just to make sure you're safe and secure in your health and everything. And, also, I'd like to ask a question.

My dad used to work for EarthLink, and now they've moved to India. So what would you do -- what steps would you take to ensure that multinational companies would stay in America?

MCCAIN: Well, thank you for bringing that up, because business taxes in America are 35 percent. They're the second-highest in the world. Only the Japanese pay higher business taxes than we do.

You know what the tax is in Ireland that's had a booming economy, as you know, at least up until recently? Eleven percent. So you own a business, and you have the ability to go overseas or stay in the United States of America, what are you going to do? Obviously, that has taken businesses and jobs and jobs and jobs out of the United States of America.

So I would reduce that tax immediately to 25 percent and even bring it lower as soon as we could, because it does mean that jobs leave this country.

(APPLAUSE)

And, again, I believe that the American worker is the most productive, the most innovative, and the best in the world. But if you own a business and you want to make a profit -- because that's why we're in the capitalist business of capitalism then -- and you see a place where you can go, then I understand why you might.

So we have to lower that tax in order to keep a more level playing field. And the businesspeople I've talked to, they want to stay in the United States of America. They would rather stay here, for a whole variety of reasons, not the least of which is patriotism, but also because the productivity of the worker.

But when they see these kinds of incentives, then obviously they have a tendency to leave. So I would reduce this business tax, and I would do it immediately. And, by the way, that's another difference between myself and Senator Obama.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Nice to meet you, sir. On behalf of Boys Nation, which I just returned from, a great program, I'm glad that the government sponsors that so much. I'm very thankful that we have systems like this that can promote youth understanding in our government.

My question for you is, what are your plans for Social Security, since we're going to be swamped by the Baby Boomers very soon?

MCCAIN: Thank you. Thank you, I -- I'd like to give you a little straight talk. And I'm sorry to have to do it, but you probably know it. Otherwise you wouldn't ask the question.

In its present fiscal status, Social Security will not be there in its present form as it is for retirees today. Is that right? Is that the right thing to do to this young man?

People are working or paying into a system that they're not going to get the same benefits from as present-day retirees. It's a disgrace. It's a disgrace.

And I want to tell you, as president, I'll call in the Democrats, or I'll go see them -- I don't care -- and Republicans, and we'll sit around the table, and we'll say, "We'll fix Social Security."

My friends, in 1983, a long time ago, Social Security was going broke. It was going broke, and it was -- that's just a fact. And armed with a study by Alan Greenspan, President Reagan and Tip O'Neill, who was the liberal Democrat from Massachusetts, sat down together. They walked out together into the Rose Garden and said, "We're going to fix Social Security." And they did, for about 20 or 25 years.

So what do we do now? Nothing. Nothing. We get into a big fight about private savings accounts and other aspects of the issue, when really what we should be doing is sitting down across the table and recognizing that our obligation is to you. Our obligation is to you.

Now, I'll give them all the credit.

(APPLAUSE)

If they want all the credit when we fix it, fine. I'll give it to them. But the point is that Americans want us to work these things out. And once we worked one of them out and get approval -- by the way, did you notice lately the approval rating of Congress is at 9 percent, 9 percent? Now, anybody in that 9 percent, please raise your hands.

But, you know, you get down that low, you get down to paid staffers and blood relatives. You don't get much lower than that. So I think that, working together, we can -- Congress can regain some of that approval, by working together for our country for a change. But your point is exactly accurate.

Right behind you is a young woman there. Maybe I could hear from her.

QUESTION: Thank you for coming. What specifically are you going to do for the communities that don't have anything?

MCCAIN: I'm sorry.

QUESTION: What specifically are you going to do for the communities that don't have anything?

MCCAIN: Let me just -- thank you for the question. And I'm sorry that acoustics are a little poor. But thank you.

I think one of the -- one of the most important things I can do for these communities that you're talking about is to make sure that they have an educational opportunity that in wealthier communities that they have.

Now, as you know...

(APPLAUSE)

As you know, we have (inaudible) has now the right after a struggle to attend school. But, you know, what kind of a benefit is that if they -- if their only choice is a failed school?

And it's a fact -- it's a fact that at lower economic areas have worse school systems than higher income areas. It's just a fact.

So what I want to do is make sure that every child in America and every parent in America has the same choice that I and my wife, Cindy, did and Senator Obama and Mrs. Obama had, and that is to send your child to the choice -- the school of your choice.

Now, that means charter schools. It means public schools. It means home-schooling. It means vouches. It means...

(APPLAUSE)

It means to give them a choice. Those communities that you're talking about, unless we provide a training and education program for them, will never become economically better.

And so, look, just two quick points. One, New Orleans. I think many of you may know that New Orleans was, as we all know, was wiped out. And so they started from square one. And guess what? There's over 30 charter schools in New Orleans today. And guess what? Their education is improving dramatically.

New York City, New York City, they took over the school system, and they've been closing failing schools, and they've been rewarding good teachers for good performance, and good principals, and good schools. And guess what? The test scores are going up.

So it's all got to do, in my view, with providing parents and children with a choice. And that competition then increases education, and that's -- that's what -- what I'd like to do.

(APPLAUSE)

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: As a third-generation New Mexican, I appreciate you coming.

My family has been here for a long time. And we have a lot of problem across the border. We've had over 300 women over the last 10 years killed and across this border. We have towns right across the border (inaudible) where the police department has abandoned their position.

We've had over 800 people killed since Christmas. We had a pastor shot down, gunned down in his rehab to defend the children that were under his care. We need a surge on the border.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: I thank you. As you know, twice, I tried to get, in a bipartisan fashion, immigration reform passed by the Congress of the United States. And we failed twice.

And we failed because the American people -- and it is a federal responsibility, not a local responsibility, not the sheriffs' responsibility, not the legislatures', state legislatures' responsibility. It's a federal responsibility.

We failed because the American people didn't believe us when we said we would secure the borders. So it's clear that we have to get our borders secured, have a temporary-worker program that's truly temporary, and address the issue of the 10 million to 12 million people who are already in this country illegally.

Now, I'd be glad to go through all the details with you, but I would also like to point out -- and I know that you included this in your remarks -- my friends, on the other side of the border -- and everybody in this room knows the border. You know the problems; you know the challenges.

I don't have to tell you, that we now have corrupt police, and we have a struggle between the Mexican government and these drug cartels for supremacy in Mexico. Some weeks ago or a couple of months ago, one of the highest ranking federal police officials in Mexico City went to his apartment, which was supposed to be totally anonymous. He was shot eight times in the head. And the guy who shot him had the keys to his apartment.

The corruption is a battle that they are in today. And I'm happy to say that I think that President Calderon, the president of Mexico, is dedicated to trying to regain control of his side of the border from the drug cartels.

Now, here in New Mexico and in Arizona, standard procedure of the drug dealers, the cartels is to send 100 or so illegals across the border, call the Border Patrol. The Border Patrol comes and rounds up the illegals. They leave, and the drug dealers come across.

So this is not just the illegal immigration problem. It is these -- I mean, these are the -- it's hard to -- the brutality and cruelty practiced by these people in the drug cartels is beyond our imagination.

So we now have for the first time a plan called the Merida Initiative with the Mexican government. And we're going to spend $400 million at least of American dollars to try to coordinate with the Mexican government to get these drug cartels and the borders under control.

And it is a national security issue. We all know that. That's why it's a federal responsibility.

So let's give President Calderon a little credit, because I think, for the first time, if not the first time, it's the first time a most serious effort is being made to combat these drug cartels and control the border on their side.

How much easier would the job be of controlling our borders if we had the Mexicans seriously controlling the borders on that side, as the Canadians do? So -- so let's give them a little credit.

(APPLAUSE)

And, finally, finally, we'll go back at this issue. We'll go back at this issue, because it's a federal responsibility and we must do it.

And I'd also like to say, again, what everybody in this room knows. These are God's children. These people that come here are coming for a job. They're coming for the same reason why we did. And when I see stories of a 16-year-old girl that died in the desert with a rosary around her neck, then we have an obligation, because we are a Judeo-Christian-valued nation, as well.

And we value and cherish in this part of the country, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, we value and cherish our Hispanic heritage. But we also understand that we have to have secure borders and we have to do it because it's a national security responsibility.

Thank you.

Uh-oh, a piece of paper.

QUESTION: I want to turn the topic back to education. I'm an associate professor here at New Mexico State University. And I'd like to ask that, as No Child Left Behind is reauthorized, that gifted education be part of the mandate, because we're focusing our attention on struggling students and students with disabilities, which is critical, but we also need to focus our attention on gifted students.

Gifted students can make significant contributions to our society and do many of the things that you've been talking about in science and industry. And if we deny the fact that they think differently and provide them different services through education, then they have a more difficult time accepting the fact that they are different. And without that personal acceptance, they cannot make the significant contributions that they're capable of.

Here in New Mexico, they're trying to pass a new funding formula which will eliminate the add-on funding for gifted education. And if there were a national mandate for gifted education, then things like that wouldn't happen in a state like New Mexico, where alternate assessments are critical to make sure the underrepresented populations that are gifted are also served.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: Thank you. Thank you. May I say that you were very gifted in your presentation, and I thank you. And I mean that.

I agree with you. And I would also make two additional points. First of all, we need to provide more incentives and ability for math, science and engineering students, as well, because we are falling behind in that area. Everybody knows that.

(APPLAUSE)

We should -- we should reach a point at least where people with those specialties are able to secure a full and complete education.

But I'd also like to mention one other aspect of the issue of education, two points. One, No Child Left Behind needs to be reauthorized. We need to learn the lessons. We don't need to discard it completely.

The second thing is, one, a terrible thing that's happened in America recently, as I know you all know, is the rise of autism. We don't know. We don't know what causes it. There's a huge debate going on now about vaccinations. And I've read and studied and gotten briefings, and I don't know all the answers.

But I do know it's a fact that autism is on a dramatic rise in the United States of America. And we've got to find the cause of it.

But, meanwhile, we're going to have to increase funding for special education. I mean, it's just -- it's just a fact. And that's expensive, but it seems to me the kind of country we are, that that should have one of our priorities, along with our most gifted.

So thank you.

Yes. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Senator McCain, I am -- thank you for coming. First, I wanted to say that. But I wanted to ask you, there seems to be a lot of controversy about people who are voting who shouldn't be voting, people who are not citizens of our country, citizens voting who are, you know, under dead people's names.

And, also, there's a huge controversy -- I watched Glenn Beck the other night, and he was talking about how many of the voting machines in the United States are not functioning properly. How can we be assured that we're even going to have an election that's going to have an accurate result?

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: I think it's going to be very tough. In case you missed it, they had a film on HBO about the 2000 election. I think it was called "Recount," as I recall. Whatever it was, it was really a compelling film about what happened as a result of the, quote -- remember "hanging chads"? Remember that? And back and forth, and the -- I mean, it was -- it was incredible.

And I worry a lot about it, to tell you the truth, because I believe that this is going to be a close election. I believe that I'm the underdog. I believe that New Mexico will be one of those states, one of those few states, my friends, that we're up late and they're saying, "Well, we're still waiting for New Mexico to come in to see who the next president of the United States is."

So...

(APPLAUSE)

I think one way is that, you know, I think our election boards -- our local election boards can always use volunteers and people to help out. They can always use people to be there to monitor the polls and to -- and to see that everything goes well, and that all the procedures are correct.

Now, I hear stories that some of these voting machines, as you have heard -- and I've read, and there have been various hearings in Congress about some of these machines that aren't accurate. There's only 78 days left. Who's counting?

(LAUGHTER)

So you have motivated me again to look at this situation to see what else that we can do to make sure that there's a minimum of it.

But while I'm at it, while I'm at it, the unions, the organized labor wants to have a procedure where a union organizer can go to a person or to someone's house and sign them up in public to be members of that union. They call it "card check."

I think it's a violation of the fundamental right of Americans to have a secret ballot. And I intend to fight that as hard as I can.

(APPLAUSE)

So, yes, can we do one more here? Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Well, first of all, I'd like to thank you for coming down here and giving me such a wonderful reason to actually skip school. So...

(LAUGHTER)

There has been talk that there are people who want to have the voting age lowered from 18 to 16. And being a 16-year-old myself, I want to know what your opinion is on that.

MCCAIN: I think I know yours.

(LAUGHTER)

I think 18 is appropriate. That's -- that's the age at which people volunteer to serve in the military. And so I think 18 is probably appropriate.

There are some people that say that it should be higher. That's usually older people that say that. I think that -- I think that 18 is probably the most appropriate age for that availability.

Could I -- could I just say one of the things about this great state, if I might mention, there's a lot of military installations here in New Mexico. There's a lot of service, a lot of servicemen and women. And the New Mexico Guard and Reserve has served incredibly. They've been back, and back, and back, and back, and back, and back.

(APPLAUSE)

So I want to be president of the United States because I want to inspire a generation of Americans to serve a cause greater than their self-interest. And I'll always put my country first.

But every time I'm in the company of these young people, I'm inspired. I'm inspired because of their willingness to serve and to sacrifice.

I'd like to tell you just one brief story. The Fourth of July before last, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and I were in Baghdad. General Petraeus -- the temperature was about 117 degrees, as I recall, that day -- these troops -- these men and women serving are putting on 40 pounds of body armor and then 40 pounds or more of equipment, and going out on 12-, 14-, 16-hour days.

But, anyway, General Petraeus asked Senator Graham and I to attend a ceremony and asked me to speak at a ceremony where 866 brave young Americans decided that they would re-enlist and stay and fight, rather than come home at the expiration of their enlistment.

It was still one of the most moving experiences of my life. And every once in a while, when we get in the back-and-forth of a political campaign, and we have these downers and ups, and there's attacks, and all that kind of stuff, you know, I start feeling a little self-pity.

And then I think back to that day in Baghdad when General Petraeus spoke to those young people who are willing to serve again and again on behalf of our freedom and somebody else's.

My friends, I believe America's best days are ahead of us. And I want to assure you that I need your vote and I need a big voter turnout. And I do not take this election lightly. We're the underdog. I'm the underdog, have no doubt about it.

But I will count on you to get out the vote. And I promise you that I will put my country first, and I'll never let you down.

Thank you for being here. And thank you. And I'll be (inaudible) thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

END


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