Chicago Sun-Times
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McCain on his trip to Mexico, Columbia; new plane. Pool report.

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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. “It’s 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. “I’ve 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 it’s 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, I’d like to tell them I’d pay a lot of attention to them as
president,” McCain added. “I think it’s 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 Mexico’s 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 chief’s house at the time of the murder

“This is really a serious situation in Mexico,” he said. “I think it’s 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 president’s battle against domestic

“But I balance that against Uribe and his administration’s 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 you’re a friend of the
United States, don’t count on them.”

When asked how closely his policies meshed with President Bush, McCain did
not answer the question directly, instead saying, “I’m 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 it’s very tough. I’m 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 opponent’s position of trade pacts while in the U.S.
“He’s against them all,” he said. “I don’t 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 he’s hoping to achieve if
elected this fall. “It’s 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 can’t 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. “There’s 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 we’re providing is some incentives and some rewards, I
don’t think I’m picking winning and losers,” he said. “I’m 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 we’ve 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 plane’s 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 family’s patriotic, pyromaniac celebration, but it’s no longer safe in
light of the region’s drought.

“Arizona just doesn’t allow it anymore,” he said.

Cindy McCain noted that she had devised a different form of entertainment
this year. “We’re having a whiffleball tournament,” she said.

Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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