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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

State of the Union Analysis

Aired January 28, 2008 - 22:26   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: For the first time in his administration, President Bush shares a spotlight with the men and women in hot pursuit of the office he now holds. Tonight, we speak one on one with the four leading Democrats and Republicans, as we break down George W. Bush's final State of the Union address, John McCain and Mitt Romney on the eve of what is expected to be a very close primary tomorrow in Florida, and Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, each fighting to make history, campaigning furiously with just a week to go until Super Tuesday, when it all could be decided for them.
You will hear from all of them tonight live.

First, the current president and his message to the Congress and the country.

CNN's ED henry at the White House starts us off -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it's interesting.

When you look at the sweep of all the State of the Unions for this president, he has previously used this stage to deliver the axis of evil speech, to build the case for war in Iraq, to talk about a sweeping reform like Social Security reform.

Tonight, much different -- he did not unveil anything new or bold. And that is a nod to the political reality. His own megaphone has been shrinking because of that presidential campaign. It's interesting that some of the cutaway shots of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, that overshadowing the man actually at the podium.

So, what did he try to do? He tried to focus on the two issues that are likely to define his legacy, at home, the economy, abroad, Iraq. On the economy, he tried to show that he can work with Democrats, highlighting that $150 billion economic stimulus plan. He's obviously very nervous about the possibility of a Bush recession in his final year in office.

So, he wants to try and show: Look, I'm reaching across the aisle. I'm trying to fix this with Democrats.

On Iraq, he has a decent story to tell, when you compare it to where he was a year ago. He was on the defensive in the last State of the Union, trying to defend a very controversial surge policy. Democrats were lining up at that time for a series of votes to try to change his policy. We all know what has happened in the last year.

Democrats have lost basically every one of those votes. They have not changed his policy. And, in fact, the president's policy has resulted in some security gains on the ground -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ed Henry from the White House tonight.

The "Raw Politics" now from CNN's John King, along with CNN senior analyst Gloria Borger, Jeffrey Toobin, and David Gergen.

Good to have you all with us.

John King, how different was tonight's speech from the first speech back in 2001, the presidency he envisioned vs. the presidency he has lived?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, night and day. That was pre-9/11, of course.

When the president first came to Washington, he was the compassionate conservative. He was going to work with the Democrats. He was going to try steal for the Republican Party the education issue. He, of course, was going to push a big sweeping tax cut even though he won an election in which Al Gore actually won the popular vote.

But it was a very domestic-focused George W. Bush that came to Washington in 2001; 9/11 changed everything. And then his contentious relationships with the Democrats and the narrow divide between the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress changed everything.

As Ed just noted, this was a president who came to office with a very ambitious domestic agenda. Now, as he outlined some of the -- outlined many of those things tonight, he knows full well nothing big will get done in his final year in office. All of that will be left for the campaign to succeed him and the next president, who we will watch on that stage a year from now.

COOPER: Bush spent a portion of tonight's State of the Union focusing on the economy.

Let's listen to a quick excerpt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At kitchen tables across our country, there is a concern about our economic future. In the long run, Americans can be confident about our economic growth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Do you think the stimulus package, changes in the market, the mortgage meltdown, seriously signal that the economy -- that concern about our economic future is warranted?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it does.

And I think what you heard from the president tonight was the president saying: Look, I hear you. I feel your pain. I think this is something we need to work together to address. And you folks in Congress, don't you load this stimulus package up with all kinds of little items that you might want for your home districts or your states. We have got to pass this. We have got to pass it quickly.

This was a president tonight, I think, that was much more conciliatory in tone, Anderson. And someone who really, really understands that he needs to work with this Congress to got a few things done.

COOPER: David Gergen, the president stated in his speech that he was taking measures to cut the number and the cost of earmarks in half. Hasn't his administration endorsed almost half of the nearly 12,000 earmarks that have been approved in 2008? I mean, why focus on earmarks now?

GERGEN: It's political -- it's politically popular. It's been an issue out there on the campaign trail. I don't think -- you know, there's not that much money in these earmarks. It's odd to be in a situation where you're -- you want to stimulate and spend more money on one hand but you want to cut the earmarks on the other. It's a somewhat odd situation.

But I thought overall, Gloria is right that it was very conciliatory in many ways. It was also a modest speech with modest goals. And it's very unclear whether the president had really come to grips with the seriousness of the economic situation.

You know, there are many in the financial community and many economists who believe this recession -- we are in a recession and it is deepening rapidly. You know, the head of the International Monetary Fund yesterday for the first time in 23 years called upon nations around the world to stimulate their economies. There is deepening concern around the world. And this package may well wind up to be far too little to deal with the underlying realities.

COOPER: John King, Bush continued to urge patience with the nearly 5-year-old Iraq war, saying more time is needed for the Iraqi government to reach a political settlement, to lock in security gains made since the so-called surge. I want to play some of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Some may deny the surge is working. But among the terrorists there is no doubt: al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Politically, how do you think the comments on Iraq are going to be interpreted?

KING: Anderson, in a conciliatory speech that was a direct blow at the Democrats. Some may deny the surge is working. Hello, Senator Clinton; hello, Senator Obama; hello, others in the Democratic Party.

The president is in a much better position now than he was a year ago. But the Democrats still say, and senators Obama and Clinton said after the speech in their statements that the surge is not working in their view. So it is a political debate right now. It could be one of the defining debates once we know the Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee. The Republicans feel a lot better about the Iraq debate now than they did just several months ago. And the president, of course, views this as one of the top legacy items that he will be defiant on that until the end.

And he does have a much better platform to stand on now. We've been in a position before where we thought Iraq was getting better. It has changed in the past. The president feels they put together a few good months in a row. We shall see how this goes on in the campaign to come.

BORGER: And Anderson, right after the president was done speaking on the surge, I got an e-mail from the Obama campaign and their immediate response to -- to the president's State of the Union. And they said, "And finally tonight, we heard President Bush say that the surge in Iraq is working, when we know that's just not true."

COOPER: Jeffrey Toobin, the president is seeking an overhaul of federal laws governing electronic surveillance. He points to the fight on the war on terror, argues that there's going to be an intelligence gap when the current law expires on February 1, which is going to make all of us less safe and more vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

Can an issue like this be resolved this quickly?

TOOBIN: Well, there was a vote today in Congress where the Senate didn't give the president what he wanted. But it's important to remember on these security issues, even after the Democrats have retaken the House and Senate, President Bush has gotten virtually everything he wanted. Democrats are always afraid of looking weak on national security.

He got the military commissions act he wanted at Guantanamo. He's gotten the surveillance laws he wanted. He hasn't gotten this one so far. And we'll see if the Democrats finally refute him on this.

But this is something the Democrats are always worried about, looking weak on defense. We'll see if the temporary victory that the Democrats won today turns into a permanent victory. But this is -- as the president said -- something that's going on right now. This law expires on Friday.

COOPER: And I just want to point out to our viewers, we will be talking live to senators Hillary Rodham Clinton, also Senator Barack Obama. We'll also be talking to Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney live this evening. Those interviews coming up momentarily.

The president also made some very pointed remarks regarding Iran. Let's play those.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops. We will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Gloria Borger, were we expecting direct comments like this?

BORGER: Well, I think this is something we've heard from the president time and again, Anderson. And he just repeated what he's been saying about Iran and, for that matter, what he's been saying about Iraq, what he's been saying about Afghanistan, what he's been saying about the war on terror.

He said tonight we are engaged in the defining ideological struggle of the 21st century. And he has not changed his tune on that one bit.

And I would also point out that Congress applauded him on Iran, because in that general way he phrased it, what's there not to agree with?

TOOBIN: But the politics of Iran have changed dramatically in the last month or so, because the National Intelligence Estimate said Iran was not the threat that the administration had been saying it was. So it seems like some of the urgency of the Iran issue has faded.

COOPER: We're going to -- all right. Go ahead, David.

GERGEN: Briefly, to echo Jeffrey on that. There are some indications, I'm told, in the foreign policy community that Iran may be more open to negotiations than we have thought.

And what's happening here is the president is playing a good cop/bad cop routine with his secretary of state. Condoleezza Rice just a few days ago was holding out an olive branch, a modest one, to the Iranians saying, "If you'll drop these things, we'll negotiate. Everything is on the table."

He came back in a much tougher, more confrontational way. You know, there's this -- this mix of signals, but I think it's quite intentional.

COOPER: We -- we will be talking to all of you more throughout this next hour and 20 minutes. We believe standing by is Governor Mitt Romney right now, who joins us now.

Governor Romney, are you there?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I sure am. Thanks, Anderson. COOPER: The president discussed his plan tonight to try to stimulate the economy, shore up the housing sector. Does the president's plan go far enough? If you were president, what additional steps might you take to try to avoid a recession?

ROMNEY: Well, in addition to the short-term effects that the president spoke about, I'd move very aggressively on some of the long- term growth effects. My plan, for instance, says that we should remove the tax on savings for middle-income and modest income citizens. That would make a huge difference.

I'd also lower the corporate tax rate, getting corporations to invest more in this country, to stay in the country. These kind of features would make a difference.

And finally, one more thing. I think people 65 and older should not have payroll taxes taken out of their wages to allow folks to stay in the work force and to keep more of their income. They've paid for Social Security already. Let's build our work force and not have to go outside the country to bring in immigrants.

Let's -- let's let our own people keep their money and stay in the work force.

COOPER: The president also talked about the immigration issue tonight. I want to play for our viewers some of what he said and then have your comments. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(NO AUDIO)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Obviously, having a problem with that. What the president said was, "We also need to acknowledge that we'll never fully secure a border until we create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy. This will take pressure off the border, allow law enforcement to concentrate on those who mean us harm. We also must find a sensible and humane way to deal with the people here illegally."

How would your approach differ in terms of dealing with the estimated 12 million or however many million illegal immigrants we currently have in the country?

ROMNEY: Well, I think most of what he said, people would agree with. But then we get into the specifics of what the bill ought to look like.

I think, first of all, that we do have a system that allows people to come here and work, either on a permanent basis with green cards or apply for citizenship or on visas. If we need additional visas to be granted in certain circumstances, that's fine. But I would not look to open a major new guest worker program for this country. I don't think that's something which is needed at this point.

I would also say that, for those who have come here illegally, that they ought to be welcome to get in line with everybody else that wants to come to this country. But there should be no special pathway for permanent residency or citizenship for those that have come here illegally.

So secure the border, have an employment verification system to know who's here legally and not, and make sure that we sanction employers then if they hire those that are here illegally. And tell the others that are already here get in line with everybody else.

COOPER: Does that mean get in line in another country, go back home? Or can they get in line while they're here?

ROMNEY: Well, it means that everybody who's here illegally would have a set period of time during which they would be able to stay here, arrange their affairs and then go home. And they can get in line whenever they'd like. But they're going to have to go home at the end of the set period of time when their affairs have been arranged.

COOPER: In terms of politics, on the campaign trail, things have gotten very heated, obviously, between you and Senator McCain. I want to listen to a little bit about what Senator McCain said to you -- said about you on the campaign trail in Jacksonville, Florida. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I really, one thing I think we should really give Governor Romney credit for, he is consistent. He's consistently taken both sides of any major issue. He has consistently flip-flopped on every issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That is the issue which many of your critics comment about you. I mean, they say that is the -- the biggest problem they have with you, that you have changed your position. Have you ever changed your position in a way that did not help you at the polls?

ROMNEY: Well absolutely. And of course, anybody who doesn't learn from their life experience should be fired. They'd be too stubborn to possibly consider for a position of leadership.

For instance, in the past, I was in favor of getting rid of the Department of Education. And that's the way most conservatives feel. But I frankly concluded that it makes sense to have a Department of Education.

And there are other issues, as well, that are not terribly helpful to me. One is my health care plan. I know a lot of conservatives don't like it, but I think it's the ultimate conservative answer, and I'm happy to campaign on that. I think it's too bad that Senator McCain is obviously so desperate in this last moment. He's campaigned for so long to be president that he levels these kind of personal attacks. It's been an interesting week as he's gone after me personally on one thing after the other.

And of course, Senator McCain, you know he was against the Bush tax cuts. Now he's for making them permanent. He was for McCain- Kennedy. Now he's for a new program for immigration. He's changed his view on issue after issue. He was against ethanol, then for it, then against it again.

Everybody has got to learn from experience that I don't begrudge him the fact that he's had a change of heart on a number of issues. But at the same time, you know, I recognize it as an individual, he's a man of character. I'm not going to attack him personally like he's doing. I just don't think that's an appropriate setting, particularly...

COOPER: You have had some pretty -- you have had some pretty tough attacks on him, basically calling him a liberal Democrat. In some quarters that's a very personal attack.

ROMNEY; No, what I'd say is that the legislation that he's brought forward, for which he is so well known, all of those major pieces of legislation are -- are pieces of legislation that are heralded by liberals and by Democrats.

I don't call him a liberal Democrat. That I wouldn't say.

For instance, McCain-Feingold, which was supposed to take the impact of money out of politics, has made things worse. McCain- Kennedy has been viewed by virtually all as an amnesty bill for illegals. And then finally, McCain-Lieberman, which puts about $1,000 tax on gasoline per year for people here in Florida, for a family of four, these are all -- these are not conservative ideas.

These are ideas that Democrats have warmed up to. And I'm afraid that, if he became president, that some of his conservative ideas would be, you know, just rejected out of hand by Congress. But his more liberal leanings on the type of issues I just described would be welcomed.

COOPER: To get things done in Washington, don't you have to negotiate? Don't you have to make compromises?

ROMNEY: You sure have to negotiate. And you have to find common ground. And in my state, for instance when -- when we were about $3 billion short in our funding for our budget, the Democratic legislature and my administration, we found common ground. We cut back. We didn't have to raise taxes.

Likewise, when we looked at finding ways to get health care for our citizens that weren't insured, we found a way that worked for Democrats and for Republicans. We didn't have to expand government insurance. Instead, we helped people to get private, free market insurance.

So there are ways to get the job done. But McCain-Feingold, McCain-Kennedy, McCain-Lieberman, those are bills that, in my opinion, were very ill thought through.

COOPER: Governor Mitt Romney. Appreciate your comments. The race is very tight in Florida. We'll be watching tomorrow night. Good luck to you, sir.

ROMNEY: Thanks so much.

COOPER: And we'll get the other side when John McCain joins us shortly tonight. And ahead tonight, senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back. Senator Barack Obama won a coveted endorsement today from one of the most powerful voices in Washington, Senator Ted Kennedy. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Barack Obama is the one person running for president who can bring us that change. Barack Obama is the one person running for president who can be that change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Senator Kennedy's endorsement comes a day after his niece, Caroline Kennedy, pledged her support to Obama, saying his ability to inspire young people reminded her of her father, the late president John F. Kennedy.

Also endorsing Obama today, author Toni Morrison, dubbed President Clinton the country's first black president, a reference that came up in the Democrats' last debate.

Senator Obama joins me now.

Senator Obama, as you were sitting in the hall, listening to the president today, what went through your mind in terms of his economic prescription for what ails the country right now? How would you differ from what the president is proposing economically?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I was struck by was what a big gap there was between the seeming lack of urgency on the part of the president and what people are experiencing day-to-day. I mean, people are anxious.

As I travel around the country, they are worried about losing their homes. They're worried about losing their jobs. They can't afford to retire. They're trying to figure out how to finance the kids' college education. They want something much more robust than the warmed-over policy prescriptions and the extension of the Bush tax cuts that -- that was the centerpiece of his policies. I think we've got to be a lot bolder than that. I believe we can come up with a short-term stimulus package that corresponds with both what the president and the Congress have talked about. I think that we have to add unemployment insurance extensions as a part of that.

But the question is long term what are we going to do? And I've said that, instead of providing an extension of the tax breaks that go to the wealthiest Americans, we need to provide tax breaks to the middle-class and working class families who've been cut out of the growth period. That will generate more business and more jobs at the ground level.

We've got to have an energy policy that is so much more aggressive than the one that we have right now. Both to deal with global warming but also to invest in solar and wind and bio-diesel, the green jobs of the future. We should be laying broadband lines, rebuilding infrastructure.

We should be revamping how we teach science and math and funding research and development much more extensively.

I mean, there are a whole host of things that we could be doing that would reinvigorate our economy over the long term and make us competitive. I didn't hear any of that from the president.

COOPER: A lot of those are things which you also hear from Senator Clinton. Where do you differ from Senator Clinton in terms of what needs to be done about the economy?

OBAMA: Well, I think that there is some consensus on the Democratic Party side. And I think that that reflects the unity of the Democratic Party. I think it will put us in good stead when we go into the general election.

I think the question is who can actually deliver on some of the prescriptions? Who can bring the country together? Who can get independents voting for us? Who can get some Republicans voting for us?

How do we set up a working majority so that, when we deliver on a health care plan that provides coverage for all Americans, that we're not going to see a repeat of what happened in '93, where resistance is mobilized not just in Congress but also in the public and you don't ever end up getting it done.

COOPER: Senator Obama, you're campaigning as candidate of change, real change. You say you're an anti-Washington insider. Today, though, you were endorsed by Senator Ted Kennedy. Isn't he epitome of the Washington establishment?

OBAMA: Well, actually, I think that, if you were watching, Anderson, the powerful moment in American University today, what you saw was an evocation of an era, back over 40 years ago, when Americans were united around dreaming big dreams and seeing great possibilities around the corner, and reaching for, not just things as they were, but being able to mobilize and inspire a new generation of Americans to get involved.

That's what I think Senator Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy and Patrick Kennedy were referring to. It's not that, you know, there is going to be an exact lock-step agreement on every policy prescription between myself and Senator Kennedy. What we share is a belief that we're in this moment in time where we can recapture that sense, that can-do spirit that I think Senator Kennedy's brother so powerfully evoked in earlier times.

And I'm very humble about understanding, you know, that Senator -- President Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy were singular figures. And in no means do I draw that comparison.

But I do draw a comparison between the moment, back in those early 60s, those heady days when we thought that we would go to the moon, that we could solve the civil rights problem, that we could reach out beyond our borders and send a message to the world about American values and ideals. I think that transition moment is similar to the one that we're in right now, if we take advantage of it.

COOPER: Senator Clinton has compared how her husband is campaigning in the last week to how your wife, Michelle, has been campaigning. Is that a fair comparison? I mean, do you think the president has crossed the line?

OBAMA: You know -- as I've said before. I think that President Clinton has every right to campaign vigorously on behalf of his wife. And I don't begrudge him that at all.

There have been times where factual statements have been made that were inaccurate. They just were wrong. And we want to make sure that we correct the record anytime that my positions are being misrepresented.

But I have no problem with the president wanting to go out there and, you know, beat the bushes for votes on behalf of his wife.

COOPER: No pun intended -- I guess I'm beating the bushes -- but it's been a very intense week of personal politics. Do you feel the Democratic Party has been damaged in any way?

OBAMA: No. Take a look at the turnout in South Carolina, Anderson. You saw for the first time, probably, in recent memory, you actually had more Democrats turning out in their primary than Republicans in South Carolina. We had a doubling of turnout from the last election four years ago.

And we've been seeing that in every state. We saw it in Iowa. We saw it in New Hampshire. We saw it in Nevada. Democrats are energized. Independents are voting Democratic. I think some Republicans are voting in the Democratic primary.

My sense is that we are going to have a nominee who has the entire party and independents who haven't previously taken a look at Democrats behind us when we go into November.

COOPER: Senator Obama, we appreciate your time. Good luck on the campaign trail, sir.

OBAMA: Great to talk to you, Anderson. Thank you.

COOPER: One program note: Senator Clinton agreed to talk with us, but at literally the last minute she canceled. Her campaign is offering no explanation.

Still ahead, though, Senator John McCain locked in close combat with Mitt Romney. He'll join us from Florida, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Senator John McCain in Florida, locked in a very tough campaign against Mitt Romney, whom you heard from a moment ago.

Tonight, a new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows that Senator McCain has made gains in California, where he's 13 points ahead of his closest rival. In Florida, where the polls open in just a few hours, he's locked in a statistical dead heat with Governor Romney.

Senator McCain joins me now.

Senator, thanks for being with us.

What do you think of the president's stimulus package that he talked about tonight? Is it the right solution for Americans who are truly worried right now about their financial future?

MCCAIN: I think it's a good thing. Obviously, it can't be written in a vacuum. There are some things I would have changed.

But the fact is that we should pass it quickly. And I worry about the Senate adding billions of dollars worth of pork in it. But I think time is very important right now to get it done and get on to other measures in order to get our economy in much better shape.

COOPER: You've criticized the president in the past for signing into law $35 billion worth of pork barrel projects. He just announced tonight if -- that an appropriations bill is passed which doesn't cut the number and the cost of the earmarks in half he's going to veto it. Did he go far enough for you?

MCCAIN: Not for me, but I'm glad he did it. I'm very happy the president did it and I strongly support him. But I would have done that with the other bills that have already been passed.

Anderson, these provisions sometimes are never even put in until after the bill is signed by the president. I mean, it's an out-of- control, broken system.

You mentioned the $35 billion in pork. We could have had a $1,000 tax credit for every child in America.

So I am glad the president did it. I strongly support it. But I would be more stringent because we are on a spending spree that's causing us a lot of these fiscal difficulties. COOPER: Unlike many other Republicans, you were critical of Donald Rumsfeld, his handling of the war early on, and for quite some time you were pretty much one of the only Republicans out there speaking against Rumsfeld. You're now very much in support of the so- called surge, militarily, its success on the ground.

The president said, though, tonight that reconciliation is happening in Iraq. Do you believe that? I mean, do you believe democracy, reconciliation, political progress is actually being made?

MCCAIN: Sure. It always happens in history when you can establish a secure environment. And it's hard and it's tough.

And I'll tell you the toughest part is not the political reconciliation, it's the rule of law, and that's going to be the hardest part, because the Al Qaida knows that if you can kill the judges and you don't have the rule of law then it's very, very difficult.

But, yes, they're making progress. But it's long and hard and tough. Well, they passed a budget. The Congress, United States Congress couldn't do that.

But it's very tough. It's very hard. There's no Thomas Jeffersons in Iraq. Saddam Hussein killed anybody that stuck their head up for a long period of time. But it's long and hard and tough. And I agree with the president, Al Qaida is on the run and it's not defeated. And if you want to do what Senator Obama wants to do and you want to do what Senator Clinton wants to do, it's surrender, defeat, and we'll be back, and there'll be chaos and genocide.

This strategy is succeeding, and their failure to recognize that I think doesn't comport with the facts.

COOPER: I want to turn to the politics just shortly. McCain, your rival Mitt Romney says that when you look at your record, he basically sees a liberal, taking Democratic positions on campaign finance reform, immigration, the environment. I want to play just briefly something he had to say. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMNEY: He's known for some things which frankly are not conservative Republican kind of movements, but instead it would have pulled the nation to the left, and I just don't think that those liberal answers are what America is looking for, not for the Republican Party or for any party for that matter.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: How do you convince conservatives to get behind your campaign?

MCCAIN: I'm doing fine with them because their major concern is the transcendental threat of radical Islamic extremism and how to keep this nation safe. They know that Governor Romney wanted to set a timetable to get out of there when things were really going tough.

Look, he ran millions of dollars in negative ads against Governor Huckabee. He's run them against me. They didn't succeed. They aren't going to succeed in Florida.

And then people are going to be looking at his record as governor -- very weak economy, jobs fleeing the state, loss of manufacturing jobs, $730 million in tax increases, and now they're saddled with a $245 million debt from his government-mandated health care system.

So look, I'm giving my positive vision. There are a lot of people here in the state of Florida that reject this kind of attack that he's been engaging in, and I'm confident that we're going to do well tomorrow, although I think it'll be close.

COOPER: You said that he wanted to set a timetable. You know, there are a lot of folks who, even though they support you, say that's not the straight talk that they're used to. I know you're referring to, I guess a quote...

MCCAIN: It's absolutely straight talk.

COOPER: A quote that he gave.

MCCAIN: It's absolutely straight talk. It is. It is...

COOPER: He gave a quote in April that he said...

MCCAIN: It's absolutely straight talk. Yes. It's absolutely straight talk.

COOPER: I just want to read the...

MCCAIN: And he said he wanted to set a timetable. And I've read it many times. I'd be glad to read it again.

COOPER: Well, he said, there's no -- well, right here, it says, "well, there's no question that the president and Prime Minister Al Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about, but those shouldn't be for public pronouncements."

It's not -- I mean, he's not saying...

MCCAIN: Now, you have to read the rest of the quote.

COOPER: ... timetable for withdrawal.

MCCAIN: No, you have to read the rest of the quote, where he says we're not going to tell the enemy when we are going to be gone. And that's an important part of that quote. And if you'd read it. And it's obvious that he was ready for the timetables.

And that was the toughest time. That's when the Democrats essentially declared the war lost. That was -- that was when timetables were the buzzwords. And -- if you read the entire quote there's very little doubt as to what his intention was. And that's just a product of his inexperience and his lack of judgment.

And I've been involved in every major national security issue affecting this nation for the last 20 years. I'm ready to lead.

But there's no doubt if you read that entire quote.

COOPER: He says that you're basically trying to get the voters to pay more attention to Iraq because the economy is the issue that you're not as comfortable with. Do you believe the economy is the most important issue facing voters right now?

MCCAIN: I think that for the rest of the 21st century it's going to be the challenge of radical Islamic extremism.

But I think right now the economy is very, very important. I'm proud of my economic effort. I'm proud to be supported by Jack Kemp and Phil Gramm and all the noted Reagan revolutionaries that I had the pleasure of working with. And they're all supporting me. Marty Feldstein, Carly Fiorina, many, so many others who are respected economists are supporting me.

And I was part of the Reagan Revolution when we entered into the greatest period of prosperity in recent American history because of the Reagan tax cuts and restraint in spending.

Unfortunately, we didn't restrain spending in 2001, and we paid a very heavy price for it as Republicans. But I'm very proud -- and if you look at those that grade us, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the National Taxpayers Union, the Citizens against Government Waste, everybody, they'll tell you I'm very strong on the economy, and I was as chairman of the Commerce Committee as well.

COOPER: Senator McCain, we appreciate your time, sir, and good luck on the campaign trail tomorrow.

MCCAIN: It's great to be back with you, Anderson. Thank you.

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