McCain picks up Thompson endorsement
August 18, 1999
Web posted at: 1:38 p.m. EDT (1738 GMT)
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (CNN) -- Sen. John McCain's bid for the Republican 2000 presidential nomination got a boost Wednesday when he was endorsed by fellow Sen. Fred Thompson, who joined McCain's campaign as national co-chairman.
"When it comes to personal courage and integrity and the courage to do what he thinks is right, regardless of whether or not it's particularly popular at the moment, John McCain has shown characteristics of leadership like no one else I've ever seen," Thompson said at a press conference.
Sen. Fred Thompson has endorsed Sen. John McCain for president
Thompson, a Tennessee Republican, and McCain are both independent minded senators who have bucked their party, most notably on the issue of campaign finance reform. McCain has repeatedly sponsored a campaign finance reform bill with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) to ban the so-called "soft money" donated to political parties and Thompson has endorsed his efforts.
When it comes to reform of the way Washington does business, John McCain is the leader," Thompson said.
McCain is a three-term GOP senator from Arizona. He was a Navy fighter pilot during the Vietnam war who spent nearly six years as a prisoner of war.
Thompson headed a Senate investigation into President Bill Clinton's campaign fund-raising practices and was once mentioned as a possible presidential candidate himself.
In preparing for the Senate campaign finance hearings, Thompson irritated several Republicans when he expressed a desire to investigate congressional campaigns, possibly putting certain GOP congressmen at risk for fund-raising wrongdoing. In the end, the Senate approved an extended investigation.
Thompson had endorsed his campaign of his fellow Tennessean, Lamar Alexander, who dropped out of the GOP race after his poor showing in the Iowa straw poll. Alexander said his showing hurt his ability to raise money. Thompson said he had told McCain that he would help him if Alexander left the race, and they both said they regretted Alexander's decision to drop out.
"I regretted the circumstances because it seemed to be about money rather than ideas," McCain said.
At the press conference and in an earlier speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention, McCain criticized the Clinton Administration for its foreign policy, saying it lacked coherence.
Thompson's endorsement went to McCain after Lamar Alexander dropped out of the race
"This administration has conducted a feckless, photo-op foreign policy which is always surprised, which always reacts and reacts on an ad-hoc basis," he said.
Thompson said that during the war in Kosovo, McCain became the only credible voice in Washington on the subject. Once the U.S. began bombing, McCain was forthright that the U.S. must win the war at all costs once it committed.
"During this last encounter, John McCain became the leading voice on this issue in Washington, D.C., including the White House," Thompson said, adding "the fact of the matter is that he took a strong position early on because he was able to analyze it and he had the courage to go forward with it, and he turned out to be right, which always helps."
McCain did not spare his fellow members of Congress, saying that pork-barrel spending continues to dominate the appropriations process, especially defense spending, which is the largest appropriations bill.
"Congress looks at the defense appropriations bill the way Willie Sutton used to look at banks," he said, referring to the bank robber who said he robbed banks because "that's where the money is."
In his VFW speech, he pounded Congress for not closing unneeded military bases and military depots while armed service personnel qualify for food stamps and veterans' needs go unfunded. "I'm ashamed that Congress finds billions for pork-barrel subsidies but fails to find money for veterans' health care," McCain said.
He also said that both Congress and the Clinton Administration have failed to fund defense spending properly and military readiness has suffered.
"For nearly a decade now, government has failed to meet its most important responsibility -- to provide for the common defense," he said in his speech to the VFW.
Questioned about gun control, McCain said existing laws should be enforced, noting that the Clinton Administration has been "derelict" in doing that. But he also said that he supported the recent gun control legislation passed by the Senate and he also said that in light of the recent spate of shootings, new proposals by the Clinton Administration should be looked at by Congress and not dismissed out of hand.