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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

An Interview With John McCain

Aired May 24, 2006 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, Senator John McCain. Will he run for the White House in 2008? From Iraq and Iran to the middle of the storm over immigration reform and a lot more -- we'll cover it all with Senator John McCain for the hour next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening, welcome to a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. We remain in Washington, D.C. with Senator John McCain, an old friend, the author along with Mark Salter, his chief of staff. "Of Character Is Destiny" -- inspiring stories every young person should know, and every adult should remember. We'll talk a little bit about that later.

Thanks for joining us Senator, in the middle of all this...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R) ARIZONA: Thanks Larry. Welcome back to the city of Satan.

KING: OK. The immigration bill...

MCCAIN: Yes.

KING: Now we taped this a little earlier this afternoon for broadcast tonight. Where are we with it?

MCCAIN: We're on the home stretch. We'll probably pass it tomorrow morning. We have invoked cloture, which means you've only got a limited amount of hours before we vote final passage. Several more contentious amendments, but I think we're pretty well going to merge as the basic proposal went in.

KING: Is the House going to go along?

MCCAIN: You know, I'm very encouraged by some of the comments that some of the House members have been making lately. They understand that we shouldn't leave this issue unaddressed. I mean, it's a terrible problem. It has to do with national security and many other aspects of American life. And I've seen some good comments out of the House. And there's no reason why we shouldn't sit down and be able to work something out.

And could I just quickly add -- from a republican standpoint, it's not good for us as leaders, presidency, both houses of Congress, not to come up with a result to address what, in my state and in California where you live most of the time, is a very, very serious and compelling issue -- in fact all across the country, but particularly in the southwest.

KING: You mean, since you control the Senate and the House and the executive branch, it's your responsibility first to come forward?

MCCAIN: I think it's our responsibility to get a result. We need to work with democrats. Well, I've been working side by side with democrats on this bill in the Senate. You have to. We need 60 votes. We have 55 republicans.

You know, I'm many times critical of the way we do business in the Congress, in the Senate sometimes. But I'm pretty proud of the work we've done over the last couple of weeks in a debate on the immigration bill. It's been respectful. We've had good amendments and good debate. And I think Americans as well as my colleagues have been educated by it.

KING: Is it clear, does the President support the Senate bill?

MCCAIN: He supports it, maybe not every dotted I and crossed T...

KING: He would sign it as written.

MCCAIN: Yes. And I want to say that the President's speech last week, which you saw, which was broadcast nationwide, was a very important and I think very successful -- Overnight polls according to CNN showed 74 percent of the American people favorably received his speech. So I think his involvement has been very helpful. And it will be helpful with republicans in the House.

KING: Are you surprised that so many people, I think over 70 percent, favor, like, work program -- don't favor throw them back?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it's the goodness of the American people and a realization on the part of the American people, you can't round up 11 million people and send them back. I mean, first of all logistically it's impossible, but from a humanitarian standpoint, an economic standpoint.

So when Americans understand the problem, which is a product of 50 years of failed federal policy, they think that earning -- and I emphasize earning -- citizenship is the way to go. And that means back taxes, criminal background check, $2,000 fine, work for six years, get in the back of the line behind everybody else, then get a green card, then be eligible for citizenship. That, in no way, is amnesty.

KING: Are you hurt, among your Republican friends, by the fact that Senator Kennedy is the co-sponsor -- it's the Kennedy-McCain bill.

MCCAIN: M-hm. Some might even call it the McCain-Kennedy bill.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

The president worked closely with Senator Kennedy on the No Child Left Behind Act. I find him an honorable partner to work with on an issue.

KING: I mean, do you face flack from it.

MCCAIN: Oh sure. I think so. But I think most of my friends realize that, if we're going to address really important issues, such as social security reform, Medicare reform and others, we have to work in a bipartisan fashion.

KING: The "New York Observer" said that you recently criticized what you called nativist elements of the GOP. Is that true? And what were you talking about?

MCCAIN: I criticize elements that take an impractical view of this. I don't know if -- I don't think -- that was not from somebody who was there, but somebody who heard from -- I don't think I used that word. I respect the views of my republican colleagues who don't agree. And I think that's an important part of this debate.

KING: You like the National Guard idea, since -- what do they really do?

MCCAIN: I think what the National Guard will do is one, provide some comfort to some of our citizens who feel we don't have enough people down there, and they're correct. I think the second thing is important to point out, that the guard people will play support and administrative roles and some labor work. But in order to be an effective border patrol -- remember the border patrol, it requires training, just like it requires training to do other specialties. So I think the President's intention is for them to go down there and be of assistance, but not be on the front line.

KING: Is it PR?

MCCAIN: Partially PR, because Americans are so upset about broken borders in a time when we're in a war on terror and we are not enforcing our borders. All of us understand and appreciate that. Larry, parts of southern California and parts of the southern part of my state are devastated by illegal aliens, whether it be health care costs or law enforcement or even destruction of our wildlife refuges. I understand the frustration that Americans feel, but thank God the majority of Americans feel that we have to handle this in a humane fashion and in a comprehensive fashion.

KING: Do you think we will have an immigration law by the mid- term elections?

MCCAIN: Yes, yes, and remember I am an eternal optimist.

KING: It'll be in conference though, won't it?

MCCAIN: It'll go to conference soon. I believe we can get a result. These are men and women of good will.

KING: Senator, I was told Speaker Hastert may block immigration legislation that divides the House. MCCAIN: I would hope that what the result we could get is that a majority or I think what you're referring to is the speaker said he wants a majority of the majority, in other words, majority of Republicans. I hope we can reach that. I hope that we can satisfy that concern on the part of the speaker and it's a legitimate concern on his part. He's made some pretty good comments lately I think about the whole issue. For example, he said we ought to consider a guest worker program. I think that's a step in the right direction.

KING: We'll take a break with Senator John McCain. His new book is "Character Is Destiny," a big vote on his and Senator Kennedy's bill will be tomorrow. When we come back, commencement speeches don't often draw a lot of attention -- only McCain. We'll talk about commencement speeches with John McCain when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.

UNKNOWN MALE: He could, in fact, co-opt the religious conservatives of the country in the same way George Bush did to help him to the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: OK, I don't even have to ask you a question. What happened?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, a lot of things happen in political campaigns. You know that as well as I do and campaigns get tough and things are said in campaigns. But most important as far as my life has been concerned, I put all of the things that happened in the 2000 campaign except for the wonderful memories behind me. There's no reason for me to hold a grudge against people.

It's not appropriate and it's not good service to the people of Arizona. So when Reverend Falwell came to my office and said he wanted to put our differences behind us, I was more than glad to do that. Life goes on. Again, to hold grudges I think is hard, but you can't do it in life. So he asked me to speak at Liberty University. I was honored to do so. These are wonderful young people. I speak at a lot of colleges and universities and I speak to the students because it's a significant point in their life.

KING: I had the honor of moderating the debate between you and George Bush.

MCCAIN: I remember it well. You did a terrible job, by the way.

KING: (INAUDIBLE), 2000. And I know how hurt you were, angry you were, at the religious right, Falwell and others. How did you forgive them? Your pain was immense.

MCCAIN: And by the way, my anger did not help my campaign. It didn't help. People don't like angry candidates very much.

KING: But it was real.

MCCAIN: Sure, because some of the attacks that were made. But Larry, that was six years ago. Are you going to carry a grudge for six years over people? I reconciled a long time ago with people who opposed me in that campaign and I have been a more effective senator because of it, just as I've been able to reach across the aisle to people that I may have had strong disagreements with. The whole business of life is to go forward and not backwards.

KING: Does it mean you were supporting Falwell's ideas?

MCCAIN: Of course not. It means that we may still hold disagreements, but we put our animosity behind us and move forward and again, those were nice young people down at Liberty University and I was pleased to have the opportunity to talk to them.

KING: Were they nice young people at the New School when they booed you and one lady who spoke before you really assailed.

MCCAIN: Well, it's unfortunate, because these young people now will have a duller life because they won't listen to the views of those that they disagree with. And that's unfortunate because the whole theme of my speech was interestingly and ironically is that we should strongly disagree with one another.

We should, if we disagree about the war or anything else, we should hold those strongly held views, argue and debate, but recognize that we are not enemies. There's an enemy out there that wants to destroy us and everything we stand for and believe in. I had some difficulty getting that message across and why did I give the same speech at Liberty and at the New School? Because I wanted that message to go to all parts of the political spectrum. I think it applies to religious conservatives, who are the right wing of my party, as well as the liberal side of American politics.

KING: Were you shocked by the actions at the New School?

MCCAIN: No, I had talked to my friend, my dear friend Bob Kerrey, who is a dear friend and great American hero, about it.

KING: He's president of the New School.

MCCAIN: Yeah, president of the New School, who had invited me. I was very disappointed to hear people yell "war criminal" at him. I mean, that's not right.

And when I talked about my dear friend, David Ifshon (ph), who died, who I had reconciled with, sort of trying to give an example of how you can profit from reconciliation they laughed when I said that he died. That's, you know, that doesn't shock you, it just makes you kind of sad. KING: Senator, it appears obvious from the pundits that you're running. I mean, it sort of looks like a duck and acts like a duck. You're in a formidable position and the polls say you're ahead. Are you running?

MCCAIN: I think I'll make that decision in the year 2007. My effort and my focus should be for the 2006 election -- all Republicans, it should be. Because we're going to have a tough election.

It's very clear to me and to others that Republicans are going through a rough patch, and we're going to have to do a lot of work...

KING: So you've made no decision at all?

MCCAIN: No. No.

KING: Really?

MCCAIN: No.

KING: Thinking about it?

MCCAIN: Of course. Of course, one thinks about it. And I've been asked several times, and this has been kind of skewed. I ran into somebody that said, do you want to be president? Sure. I'd like to be president. The question is, do you want to run for president? And do you think that you can have a viable candidacy? There are very few Senators I know that wouldn't like to be president.

KING: Do you think you could? What's the answers to those questions?

MCCAIN: I think I will know better after the 2006 election. Really, the 2006 election will have a lot of effect on our party and the nation.

KING: Supposing you get lumped? Supposing the Democrats take the House, make the Senate even or close, maybe even take the Senate, does that mean you're more likely to go?

MCCAIN: I think it depends on the message of the American people. Are they sick of us Republicans? Are they sick of all incumbents? You can tell when people go to the ballot booth what their priorities are and what their concerns are, far better than any other way.

KING: Did you enjoy running?

MCCAIN: Oh, I love it. I love it.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN: I was up in New Hampshire, speaking to a Republican women's club the other morning...

KING: Now that tells people something.

MCCAIN: Yes, but, you see, I travel around the country. I was also in Upstate New York. I was also in Delaware. I travel all the time, campaigning for candidates and the parties. But I brought back wonderful memories of our victory in New Hampshire.

KING: You're writing your book, but you're still working characters' destiny, you're still working on your own?

MCCAIN: Absolutely.

KING: Haven't got it down yet?

MCCAIN: Not yet. I have many failings and one of them -- I'd be quite glad to chronicle many of them for you, but I am still a work in progress.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN: And I'm afraid many of my colleagues would tell you that.

KING: Is compromise an enemy of character?

MCCAIN: No. Compromise, as long as it's not a compromise of principle. In other words, we're working through this immigration bill right now and we've made a number of compromises, but we've been able to uphold the basic principles of a comprehensive and humane approach to illegal immigration.

So, I think in the business of politics, you compromise all the time. As long as you don't compromise principle.

KING: We'll take a break, and when we come back, we'll ask Senator McCain about the issue that could defeat his party -- Iraq.

Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Our guest is Senator John McCain.

Secretary Rumsfeld will be our guest tomorrow night.

What's your gripe about him?

MCCAIN: Well, I felt very strongly that we did not have enough troops over there for the conduct of the war and particularly the post-combat phase. That wasn't just my view. That's literally, now in retrospect, the view of everyone involved, including he overruled many of his military advisers.

But, again, I don't think that it helps the president or the war for me to be critical of Secretary Rumsfeld. I have honestly opposing views. The president is the one whose confidence he enjoys, and that's really what it's all about. KING: But as of that (inaudible).

MCCAIN: Yes.

KING: Don't you want to say, maybe someone else should be in that post? Would you advise your president?

MCCAIN: If the president asked my advice, I obviously would give it. But I wouldn't volunteer it. And the second thing, the most important thing for any president is to have confidence in the people that are his subordinates, particularly an important position like that.

KING: What's wrong in Iraq?

MCCAIN: We were unable to get the situation under control right after the initial military victory. And that led to looting, unrest, a formation of these insurgent groups, Iraqi al Qaeda, Fedayeen, and then also with others coming in from outside. So that -- because we didn't have enough troops, there was cities like Fallujah that were basically taken over by the insurgents and run by them, so that at a certain point in time, we had to go in there with significant loss of life and clean them out.

And we've never gotten a hold of some sections of Baghdad. And it's been very difficult in the Sunni triangle.

Now having said that, we are making progress. The formation of a government is helpful. We are training the Iraqi troops. There are parts of Iraq that are well under control and very peaceful. So it's a mixed bag here.

You know, a classic example, Larry, is they formed a government. That's the good news. But the bad news is, we haven't got a minister or interior or defense yet. You know? So, it's kind of two steps forward and one step back. We cannot afford to lose. I would just want to emphasize, we cannot afford to lose this.

KING: Retrospect is always easy. Would you vote to go in there again?

MCCAIN: Yes.

KING: You would?

MCCAIN: Absolutely.

KING: Why can't we afford to lose?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN: First of all, I would vote because I believe that Saddam Hussein had used and acquired weapons of mass destruction and he would if he were still in power. What was the second question? I'm sorry.

KING: What -- we can't lose...

MCCAIN: No, if we lose, then it will deteriorate into sectarian violence, the Iranians will play, the Syrians will play. The whole area will retrogress into chaotic conditions. Also, I think very importantly, we should remember that these people are not just interested in Iraq. They're interested in attacking us and the House of (inaudible) and exerting their control, eventually over the world.

KING: Why has the public turned so much against this?

MCCAIN: Because they are very frustrated and that frustration is understandable. When I travel around and I meet the family of one of these young people who has been killed, it's terrible, it's gripping, it's sad. And we had such high expectations. We were told too many times, the last throes, a few dead enders, stuff happens --

KING: They're going to greet us --

MCCAIN: Yeah -- and I think that raised Americans expectations, so we were disappointed when we saw the casualties continue. Somebody's going to come on this show and say well, the casualties are nothing compared to other wars. That's true, but these casualties we see every day on the crawl line on the screen on CNN and they just affected the American people and a lot of them were National Guardsmen and so it's pretty tough for the American people because they want to see this issue, this situation resolved.

KING: The "New York Observer" quotes you as telling a private meeting of big New York political donors that if he was -- if you were president, you sit the Shiite and Sunnis down and say stop the BS. Is that accurate?

MCCAIN: I said that I would sit the Sunni and Shia down and say let's get these guys (INAUDIBLE) but I want to say that this, our ambassador Zoll (ph) over there has done a magnificent job. He's been superb. The president has been on the phone to these people quite a lot. I can't fault the president's effort to get this government going. He's done a very good job I think.

KING: Can Iraq defeat you, defeat your party in November?

MCCAIN: I think it is the overlying (ph) issue in all the polls and yeah, I think it is a drag, both on the president's popularity and on the Republican Party. I don't think there's any doubt about it. And I'm sure that the Korean War was a drag on Harry Truman and the Democrats. In retrospect, it's a good thing we stayed in Korea.

KING: And Vietnam forced the president to resign.

MCCAIN: Yes.

KING: Well, not run again. MCCAIN: In Vietnam, we lost and there was a whole variety of reasons, but the fundamental reason as you know was Americans loss of confidence that we could prevail.

KING: Do you think that's now occurring in Iraq?

MCCAIN: I think we have difficulties, but when you really look at the polls, when you see Americans want us to withdraw, if you said tomorrow, they'd say no. Americans have been wonderful in this conflict in two ways. One, they've been very patient and two, most importantly, they continue, whether they disagree on the war or not, they continue to support the men and women who are serving. That's a wonderful thing Larry.

KING: Back with Senator John McCain of Arizona. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're touching lots of bases with Senator John McCain tonight, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld tomorrow. John's new book is "Character Is Destiny," inspiring stories every young person should know and every adult should remember, including affecting his own self since his character is still being formed. Tony Blair's coming tomorrow and he's getting as hard as Bush back home. You support Mr. Blair as well, right, I would assume?

MCCAIN: I think he's shown a great deal of courage. I also happen to agree with him, by the way, about the urgency of addressing the issue of climate change, but I think Tony Blair has been steadfast and these British soldiers are -- you know, we've got lots of allies and thank God for them, but it's really been the British who have been -- played a key role.

KING: You seen Al Gore's new movie?

MCCAIN: I have not seen it. I read the reviews. It's got pretty good reviews.

KING: I imagine you're supportive of global warming, of the idea of doing something.

MCCAIN: Absolutely. I think we've made terrible mistakes by not addressing this issue.

KING: I know you said previously on this program that you're very good friends with Joe Lieberman.

MCCAIN: Yes.

KING: Joe is going to be in a tough primary fight from the left side of his party, claiming that he's become a de facto Republican.

MCCAIN: You know, I don't believe that at all. I know that Joe still holds fast to Democrat Party principles. He's one of the most decent men that I've ever known in my life. He's honest. He's a man of integrity. I regret this because I believe in both parties. We should be able to hold views Larry that may differ from that of our party. But as long as our principles and philosophy are aligned, we should be acceptable. I think this is -- could be viewed by some as an effort on the more liberal side of his party to discipline him and that's unfortunate because Joe is a vital and key member of the United States Senate.

KING: You're hoping that he forestalls this battle.

MCCAIN: I hope that he prevails and...

KING: But you want a Republican to beat him or don't you?

MCCAIN: Well, I'm a loyal Republican, but he happens to also be a very dear friend of mine and I've had a great honor of working with him on many issues, including the formation of the 9/11 Commission among others.

KING: Speaking of friendships, it's generally said that this town was different in the past. Humphrey and Goldwater were friends.

MCCAIN: Goldwater and McGovern were friends.

KING: What happened? You say you and Joe Lieberman are friends. That's probably rare.

MCCAIN: I don't know what's happened. Part of it is that they used to socialize a lot more together and get to know each other better. As you know, we're out of here on the weekends and we're spread all over. I think part of it obviously is this poisoned climate that makes us spill over into personal relationships and it's very unfortunate, because it keeps us from sitting down together and doing things for the country.

KING: This hate...

MCCAIN: ... hate, but there's a certain -- the ability to discriminate between issues which are more important than party and transcend political philosophy.

Example, fixing Social Security. Republicans and Democrats should be able to do what Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did in 1984. We should be able to sit down and say OK, here's the fix to Social Security with the advice of the smartest people in America. We can't do that. Did you notice in the president's State of the Union speech, the president said, I regret we were unable to reform Social Security and the Democrats stood up and cheered and that's not right. That's not the right kind of way we should approach an issue like that.

KING: There are many, many Republicans angry over the FBI raid on Congressman Jefferson's office. It has never happened in American history. How do you react?

MCCAIN: I reacted with some concern about it, I do. But on the other hand, I wonder if we should say that that's some sacrosanct area. I would -- what I think should have happened, I think the FBI should have gone to the speaker and Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat leader and said, look, we need to go into this office for this reason. I think that probably would have been a much better path to take. They didn't have to tell every Senator, but they should have gone to the leadership of the House, I think, and told them they were going to do it. And you could trust them not to say anything about it.

KING: I wanted to ask you in the 2000 campaign where we did many interviews, if you considered yourself a maverick, and you said you did, and that you were proud to carry that banner. Because you marched to your drum. Still true?

MCCAIN: I march to my drummer and always have, but it's grounded in a fundamentally conservative Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan philosophy.

And does that mean that sometimes I depart from a lot of the members of my party on certain issues? Well, this immigration issue is obviously not pleasing to the right of my party. But I...

KING: Global warming may not...

MCCAIN: Yes, and I think I've got to do what I know is right. And through my experience and knowledge and age have shown me, I really have been given both the curse and the gift of knowing what's right and what's wrong. Does that mean I'm always right? No. But when I've acted in ways that I knew were right, rather than just for political reason, it's never hurt me.

KING: So you sleep well?

MCCAIN: I sleep very well. Although there have been times when I haven't always acted on principle.

KING: Oh.

MCCAIN: Yes. The flag in South Carolina. I said that that was a state issue. It's not a state issue. It's a symbol that should not fly over the state capitol anywhere in America.

KING: It's a Bixy (ph) flag?

MCCAIN: Yes, sir. And I said that it really wasn't any of my business, was basically what I said. That was an act of cowardice.

KING: Do you support gay rights?

MCCAIN: Yes, sir. But I do not believe in -- I believe in the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.

KING: But didn't you support pro-union?

MCCAIN: I will vote against -- yes. I will vote against the constitutional amendment concerning gay marriage. Gay union...

KING: That would ban it. That would ban gay marriage. MCCAIN: Because I believe that the people of Arizona should make the decision concerning the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and union between a man and woman. And I believe the people of Massachusetts should make their decision, and others. I think it's up to the states to make those decisions. And by the way, that's the federalist approach.

KING: I know. And if Massachusetts would say it's OK, then you?

MCCAIN: I will respect the opinion of the people in Massachusetts. But the people of Arizona, I hope, would decide that a union between man and woman has a unique status.

KING: Do you favor a civil union?

MCCAIN: I think that...

KING: Arizona proposed that.

MCCAIN: I think it depends on -- well, I would respect the majority opinion of the people in Arizona. But a lot of times it depends on what do you mean by gay union? Does it mean that they're able to enter into certain contracts, people have a partnership? I think so. But to give it the status of heterosexual marriage is not something that I would support.

KING: Our guest is Senator John McCain.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Senator John McCain. No one knows more about prison and being held against your will than the Senator.

What do you think of the United States military prison at Guantanamo?

MCCAIN: I think the prison itself is probably an adequate and in some ways a facility that is humane. I think the image of Guantanamo, because of our failure to resolve these prisoner issues, is something that has obviously become an issue worldwide. Because you know the United Nations just called for abolishing Guantanamo and so have other human rights organizations.

The key to this, Larry, in my view, is to somehow decide on these cases of these individuals who are kept there. If they are bad people and they need to be executed or in prison for life, I think that's fine. If they are not guilty of crimes, then they should be set free.

We should have a process -- and I'm not talking about a jury trial, but a process where we can determine guilt or innocence and punish them or release them, depending on what their status is. KING: Are you concerned about veterans and identity theft?

MCCAIN: Yes, I'm very worried about it.

KING: It's unfortunate.

MCCAIN: Yes. It's really unfortunate that that happened. And you just -- people now are going to be very nervous for a long time. Many of them, elderly veterans that didn't need that kind of problem.

You know, Cindy's and my theft were stolen, and they...

KING: When?

MCCAIN: A couple years ago, year and a half ago, I think. And three people were caught and were prosecuted...

KING: Someone would steal a Senator's identity?

MCCAIN: Yes. And they...

KING: Were they cashing checks?

MCCAIN: Were using -- making charges. And the guy -- somebody interviewed me, and I made a terrible mistake, because I told an old joke about the guy who said his credit card had been stolen, but he didn't report it because the guy that had stolen it was spending less money than his wife was. Cindy was not amused by that.

KING: But they caught the guy?

MCCAIN: Yes. Well, actually, there were two of them, yes.

KING: You recently said that Iran is the greatest threat to national security. Assuming that is a fact, what do you do about it?

MCCAIN: Outside of the overall threat of the war on terror, this is the single greatest challenge, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran and their repeated policy that they are going to exterminate the state of Israel and wipe it off the map. I mean, this is serious. When the president of a country comes to the United Nations and says we are going to exterminate the state of Israel, and they're acquiring the means to do so. I mean, and it wouldn't be just Israel.

I mean, it would destabilize the entire Middle East. All of those countries would feel they have to have nuclear weapons as well. I mean, this is an incredibly big challenge.

KING: You're not going to start a preemptive war, though?

MCCAIN: No. No. No, we have a broad number of options before we would exercise a military option. I think the president and the administration is doing the right thing, going to the Security Council with our European allies, seeking sanctions.

I noticed today, maybe there's a glimmer of hope that there is some indication that maybe the Iranians would like to talk about this. I hope it's true. I'm very skeptical because of their past behavior. But I hope that it's true.

Finally, let me mention that when somebody says, well, you're not taking the military option off the table. How can you take the option completely off the table, Larry, if you know that the Iranians are about to launch a nuclear weapon against Israel? Would we sit by and watch the extermination of a nation?

But I want to emphasize, I know this administration is trying many, many options, including sanctions before that would in any way be considered. But to take it off the table would be wrong.

Let me just mention one other thing. The Chinese and the Russians are key here, as you know, at the Security Council. I would make it very clear to the Russians and the Chinese that this is a very, very important issue. We expect them not to veto. And if they do veto, it could have significant effect on our relations.

KING: So Iranians, people, the Iranian people are generally very friendly toward the United States.

MCCAIN: Very friendly. We have thousands who travel back and forth between Iran and the United States. But -- and that's true. But they do have a government that basically removed all moderate candidates in their elections, that there's been a real return to a very repressive and certainly fits the word "radical" regime.

KING: When we're back with Senator John McCain we'll ask him how he will reduce gas prices. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Senator John McCain. The book is "Character is Destiny." We'll ask about it in just a couple of moments.

Gas prices.

MCCAIN: Gas prices are not going to come down soon. In fact, there are parts of the world where we get a lot of our oil that are in - I would say that there is a possibility that we could see trouble in Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Russia. We could - so we have to, I think, do long range planning on things like hydrogen, coal gasification, etc, in a short term. There are two technologies that are readily available. One is ethanol, which doesn't make sense when oil is $10 a barrel, it does when it's over 40 and the other is nuclear power.

Now I understand nuclear power continues to be controversial.

KING: (inaudible)

MCCAIN: It's clean. It's safe. The Europeans are using it to an enormous degree. Eighty percent of the French electricity is generated by nuclear power. It's a psychological problem, not a technological problem. And it's there and it's clean. And I hope that we can move forward in both ethanol and - by the way, you know the Brazilians have successfully ...

KING: Ethanol.

MCCAIN: Yes. Their automobiles are not almost all fueled by it.

KING: More hybrid cars.

MCCAIN: More hybrid cars also but I think we ought to also provide some incentive there for people to buy those because as you know, those are pretty expensive.

KING: You want to boycott the G-8 summit in Russia. Why?

MCCAIN: Because I think that Putin's behavior has been - would disqualify him from a community of democratic nations. He has consolidated power. He has repressed the media. He has basically controlled the major corporations in Russia and he continues to brutalize Chechnya and intimidate his neighbors, Georgia and Ukraine.

I think he needs - I think that Vladimir needs to understand that we feel very strongly he's going in the wrong direction. And he continues to support this brutal dictator in Belarus. This guy, this thug called Lukashenko.

KING: A couple of political things then we're going to ask about your book.

MCCAIN: Sure. No problem.

KING: Would Hillary Clinton be a formidable opponent for any Republican?

MCCAIN: Absolutely. Anyone who underestimates ...

KING: Is she a good senator?

MCCAIN: Yes, she is.

KING: So you would not take her lightly?

MCCAIN: No, but I wouldn't take a number of others lightly either.

KING: What others have impressed you?

MCCAIN: Well, John Kerry always has. Governor Warner is very impressive. Chris Dodd is a very articulate guy. He just announced this morning that he would be running. Evan Bayh is a very attractive guy.

KING: Al Gore?

MCCAIN: Yeah. I would think Al Gore would certainly - he is certainly a seasoned politician. It's hard for me to know who would prevail in a Democratic primary. I just am not familiar with him but I think they have a good stable.

Having said that, I think it's very clear that Senator Clinton has the inside track to say the least.

KING: Who, McCain aside, has the inside Republican track?

MCCAIN: I think we're going to be blessed with a number of very highly qualified candidates. Senator Brownback is a great man. George Allen did a great job as governor and as senator. Mitt Romney has been a fine governor of Massachusetts.

KING: What about your friend Rudy?

MCCAIN: Rudy is an American hero. Rudy Giuliani is an American hero who I have the utmost admiration and appreciation for. So I think whether I'm in it or out of it I think we Republicans have some very good choices.

And by the way, I'm sure I forgot somebody's name who is going to be mad at me for a while, I apologize.

KING: Bill Frist.

MCCAIN: Bill Frist is a fine man. Thank you for mentioning that. Bill Frist is a true humanitarian.

KING: It's a heck of a year when no candidate will have been a president or vice president. I think the first time in 50 years.

MCCAIN: The first time there hasn't been a clear line of succession, certainly, in the Republican Party.

KING: So it's going to be vibrant.

MCCAIN: I think so and I think it's good for - I think it's good for America to have a very highly competitive campaign. That's good for America.

KING: We'll have our remaining moments with Senator John McCain right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: John McCain has had nothing but bestselling books. "Why Courage Matters" and "Faith of My Fathers."

And now he brings us from Random House, "Character is Destiny: Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember." Written with his chief of staff, Mark Salter.

What's the genesis of this?

MCCAIN: Basically, our publisher asked us. A little straight talk. But they - we had a wonderful publisher, John Carp (ph) his name. He came to us and he said we think it would be a great idea if you wrote a book that - about character, different qualities that make up one's character and examples of it. We were certainly glad to do it.

KING: How did you gather the stories?

MCCAIN: We sat down and talked about people and we'd study and read, Mark and I together. He's the real genius behind this and we'd talk about our childhood heroes and people that we know and people we've heard of and some are extremely well known, like Churchill and others, and then some like Pat Tillman and Sister Antonio are not well known. And each of the different characteristics that go up to make one's character. We wrote about people that exhibited those and some, as I say, are well known and others not.

Pat Tillman ...

KING: What a tragedy that was. Why did they hide from his folks that he was killed by friendly fire?

MCCAIN: I do not know the answer to that and it's so sad because in no way does that diminish the fact that he's an American hero.

KING: Of course not.

MCCAIN: Many of our viewers may not know exactly - he was a young man who played at Arizona State University, the Arizona Cardinals, turned down a multimillion dollar contract to go and fight for our country and he epitomizes everything that I've ever admired and loved about America.

KING: And killed in Iraq ...

MCCAIN: Killed in Afghanistan.

KING: In Afghanistan and they discovered it was friendly fire.

MCCAIN: It was friendly fire and unfortunately the initial reports were not that and there's still an ongoing investigation and our heart goes out to his family, his mother Mary and the rest of the family who have gone through a very difficult period.

KING: Senator, do you think character is formed very early?

MCCAIN: I think sometimes it is but I think sometimes it's more events as much as anything else. I think that people's characters sometimes are formed by the experiences they have and the leadership and and the guidance that they have.

I had a teacher in high school that was a football coach and a English teacher and his name was William B. Radmill (ph). He was everything I ever wanted to be. I'm sure you had the same -- I was blessed to have William B. Radmill (ph) as a guy who I said, I want to be him. He fought in Patton's tank corps in World War II, he was -- you know, he was just everything I wanted to be.

And then there's fictional characters. When I was a kid, I picked up "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Robert Jordan was everything -- including having a beautiful Spanish girlfriend -- (laughter) -- that I wanted to be.

KING: How about the Lone Ranger?

MCCAIN: He was a good guy, too. But Robert Jordan left Montana to fight for a cause he believed in. He became disillusioned with the cause, but he still fought and sacrificed his life for his comrades. That, to me, is what --

KING: You're saying, in a sense, people don't change; circumstances change.

MCCAIN: I think circumstances change, but I also think we are influenced by others when we're in our formative stages. And these people are the ones that I hope would influence some young people.

KING: And how is your health?

MCCAIN: It's excellent -- thanks for asking. Very good. About six --

KING: Everything's okay with the skin?

MCCAIN: Yeah, I think six years it has been, now, since I had --

KING: No recurrence?

MCCAIN: No, but wear sunscreen, go to your dermatologist. If you have a spot, get it looked at immediately. Melanoma is a spreading and growing disease. And I hate to be a fanatic, but it's --

KING: Be a fanatic.

MCCAIN: Yeah. Wear sunscreen.

KING: Thanks, John.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

KING: Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, the famous decorated veteran, war hero, and a prisoner of war for a long time. "Character is Destiny" is the book.

Tomorrow night, Don Rumsfeld will be our guest. On Friday night, Ryan Seacrest will host the proceedings. He'll have the winner and the runner-up from "American Idol."

And one reminder: Next Tuesday night, Elizabeth Taylor will join us.

Right now we turn things over to New York and Anderson Cooper.

Anderson?

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