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Inside Politics

Hastert questions McCain's GOP credentials

Senator responds with statement on 'fiscal responsibility'

Sen. John McCain: "I fondly remember a time when real Republicans stood for fiscal responsibility."
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CNN's Joe Johns on Hastert's swipe at McCain.
John McCain
Dennis Hastert

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a rare public swipe at a fellow Republican, House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Wednesday questioned the GOP credentials of John McCain, a U.S. senator who has often challenged party orthodoxy.

Talking to reporters, Hastert pretended not to know who McCain was when asked about a recent statement by the GOP senator from Arizona.

As other House GOP members stood behind him laughing, Hastert, R-Illinois, then expressed doubt that McCain was indeed a Republican.

The exchange started when a reporter asked: "Can I combine a two issues, Iraq and taxes? I heard a speech from John McCain the other day..."

Hastert: "Who?"

Reporter: "John McCain."

Hastert: "Where's he from?"

Reporter: "He's a Republican from Arizona."

Hastert: "A Republican?"

Amid nervous laughter, the reporter continued with his question: "Anyway, his observation was never before when we've been at war have we been worrying about cutting taxes and his question was, 'Where's the sacrifice?' "

Hastert: "If you want to see the sacrifice, John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda. There's the sacrifice in this country. We're trying to make sure they have the ability to fight this war, that they have the wherewithal to be able to do it. And, at the same time, we have to react to keep this country strong."

Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda National Naval Medical Center are two military hospitals in the Washington area.

McCain, a prisoner of war during Vietnam, later released a written statement, taking issue with the spending habits of Republican lawmakers.

"The Speaker is correct in that nothing we are called upon to do comes close to matching the heroism of our troops," McCain said.

"All we are called upon to do is not spend our nation into bankruptcy while our soldiers risk their lives. I fondly remember a time when real Republicans stood for fiscal responsibility. Apparently those days are long gone for some in our party."

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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