updated 10/19/2006 12:10:02 PM ET 2006-10-19T16:10:02

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  From Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, home of the Cyclones, it‘s big 12 country and it‘s homecoming week.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  It‘s the HARDBALL College Tour.  Let‘s give a big Iowa State welcome our special guest, Senator John McCain.  Let‘s play HARDBALL!




MCCAIN:  I was—that was a vote for be nice. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I asked them, Senator, should I ask you the easy questions or the hard ones, and it was like the Roman Coliseum here.  Thumbs down on this guy.  So here it comes at their request.  Maureen Dowd in today‘s “New York Times” said that you had a chug-a-lug contest, a vodka drinking contest with Hillary Clinton two years ago in Estonia. 


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s hear your side of the story. 

MCCAIN:  What happens in Estonia stays in Estonia. 

MATTHEWS:  But they said to be tough, so what really happened?

MCCAIN:  Nothing.  We had dinner there and we went to a restaurant afterwards with Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Susan Collins, and we had a—and I think Sununu also—and we had a couple of drinks after dinner.  That‘s it.  I‘m sorry it‘s not more exciting.  I‘d love to tell you that I ran up and down the square. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what kind did you have, Stoli?  What did you have, Stoli?  Or what did you have over there? 

MCCAIN:  I think that it was a couple drinks of vodka, but I did not see—detect the brand.  I‘m sorry.

MATTHEWS:  Who had more, you or Hillary?  I just want the score here. 

That‘s all. 

Video: McCain on the state of politics MCCAIN:  I honestly don‘t know, but it was very casual.  I promise you it‘s been about 50 years since I‘ve been in a drinking contest.  I wish it was sooner. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, who won that one? 

MCCAIN:  That one I don‘t remember.  I must have lost.


MATTHEWS:  Former President Bill Clinton was at Georgetown today and he said that politics has become a contact sport.  He said you can‘t complain out being attacked.  It‘s like Yao Ming complaining about being fouled in basketball.  What‘s your reaction to that? 

MCCAIN:  I‘m afraid he‘s right, and I don‘t think that American people deserve it, and there‘s lots of young people out here who are going to watch the game where they beat Texas Tech at homecoming tomorrow. 


MCCAIN:  How‘s that for pandering? 

MATTHEWS:  Well ... 

MCCAIN:  Anyway, I think that I want these young people to seek public office.  I want them to serve the country.  I think we need good members of Congress, senators, state legislature, and I hope there‘s a president out there.  And I want them to be motivated to run. 

Many of them come up to me and say, hey, I see these commercials all the time and I hear these personal attacks and disparaging of people‘s character and patriotism, so why should I expose myself and my family to that?  You‘ve seen it for eons.


MCCAIN:  And I think—I think—I don‘t want to put words in your mouth, but you used to work for a distinguished member of Congress and I think in those days, there was a much more respectful dialogue between politicians, and in campaigns than there is today. 

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t politicians like each other today? 

MCCAIN:  I think that we don‘t see each other as much as we should, for one reason.  I think that we are motivated to do whatever is necessary to gain public office, and I‘m afraid that sometimes we look at polling numbers and see that negative attacks move those numbers in our favor or against our opponent. 

And so the voters, to some degree, are responsible because they‘ve got to reject these negative attacks and support people who they believe in and ignore a lot of this stuff.  And a lot of it‘s very cleverly done, as you know.  People become millionaires doing these ads. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk substance.  North Korea—we‘ve got a new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll coming out tonight.  It says that a majority of the Americans, 56 or 57 percent, do not believe we should attack North Korea, even if it continues with its development of nuclear weapons.  Your reaction? 

MCCAIN:  My reaction is that I understand the reluctance of Americans to engage in warfare.  It‘s the last option.  I also think that you‘ve got a very dangerous country, a failed state ruled by a megalomaniac.  You‘ve seen this little guy with his platform shoes and his interesting hairdo ... 


MCCAIN:  ...that is dangerous.  They have sold missiles to other countries, as you know, in order to get money.  I am afraid that if they have nuclear weapons, there‘s a risk of them selling them, possibly to a terrorist organization.  I think there‘s a lot at stake here, and I think the president has led us well in this crisis by going to the United Nations by seeking and obtaining sanctions against North Korea. 

Finally could I say, China holds the trump cards here, Chris.  You know that.  They control the food and the oil that goes into North Korea.  They could collapse their economy in a very short period of time.  The Chinese have to understand that they are going to be superpower—actually, they are already, and have to exercise restraint against North Korea.  And I‘m sorry for the long answer.

MATTHEWS:  But the answer—no, it‘s a long ...

MCCAIN:  It‘s a tough issue.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a tough question.  It seems to me we went through the Korean War.  You were in the Vietnam.  The Korean War was brutal.  Most Americans said by the time it was over, we‘d settle for the 38th parallel.  Just take a stall, take a—what do you call it—a truce and end it.  Do you think the American people would ever support another Korean War? 

MCCAIN:  I think that if the American people believed that there was an eminent strike on the United States of America or one of our allies—they have missiles, as we know, and they have nuclear weapons, as we know, or they just tested one. 

If they match the two up, then I think that they would recognize the threat.  But it‘s like any other situation.  If the American people are told, and if it is displayed to them clearly, they will respond positively, but they have to be convinced, obviously. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that the North Koreans would send a nuclear missile and a missile at the continental United States? 

MCCAIN:  I don‘t believe ...

MATTHEWS:  Why would they ever do that? 

MCCAIN:  Why would they ever do what they‘ve been doing?  I mean, why would they ever starve tens of thousands of their own people?  Why would they sell missiles to people who would escalate tensions, to say the least, in the world?  I don‘t know if they would or not, but put yourself in the place of the Japanese. 

MATTHEWS:  I know, but we‘re not in the place of the Japanese.  Why don‘t they do something.

MCCAIN:  They are our ally.  I‘m not saying that we should take military action against North Korea.  I‘m just saying that because of the danger of the situation, that we would have to reserve that option.  And, again, I think the president did exactly right by going to the United Nations, convincing the Russians and the Chinese to agree to these sanctions.  

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about an area where we‘ve all been involved, you especially, in talking about Iraq and how we can win this war or deal with it.  You‘ve called, just in the last couple of days, for 100,000 more troops on top of the 140,000 we have as a compliment there. 

When I read that on the clips this morning, I went to General Barry McCaffrey, whom you know so well, and he said we‘ve got only a total of 19 brigades that we could actually put into combat right now.  We have 17 committed, two of those brigades to Afghanistan, 15 brigades already in Iraq.  He says we simply don‘t have the capability to sustain another 100,000 troops in Iraq.  You disagree?

MCCAIN:  I said we need 100,000 more ...


MCCAIN:  ...members of the Marines and the Army.  We need additional troops there, but I think we need to expand the Army and the Marine Corps by 100,000 people. 

MATTHEWS:  More recruitment. 

MCCAIN:  I didn‘t say we need 100,000 -- more recruitment.  And by the way, I‘m sure that people in this audience know the members—many members of the Iowa National Guard.  They have served with courage, with bravery, with sacrifice and enormously wonderful performance.  But it‘s a heavy strain on the Guard. 

MATTHEWS:  Would they please stand up?  I know we have some here.  Would the people of the National Guard of Iowa please just stand up nonofficially here?  Thank you.


MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Thank you for your service. 


MCCAIN:  Some of these young people have been to Afghanistan or Iraq two or three times already.  We have put an enormous strain on them.  They have performed magnificently, but we can‘t keep it up.  We‘ve got to expand of the Marines.

MATTHEWS:  How many other people, men or women, are thinking of making a military commitment in the next couple of years in this audience?  Anyone else?  Stand up, please, if you‘re thinking about making a military commitment.  Well, you guys are already ROTC, right?  And we have the ROTC people here. 


MATTHEWS:  Thank you, and thank you for your future service.  Let me ask you ...

MCCAIN:  Could I respond to that?  I think if young Americans, young people in this audience that‘ll have—at Iowa State are told—the ones at Ohio State, too, but at Iowa State are told that we need them for a worthy cause, that we will compensate them well, that we will provide for further educational benefits, that we will offer—that‘s the job of recruiters.  That‘s our job to ...


MATTHEWS:  But why isn‘t it working?  I mean, so few people here— we‘ve got a couple of thousand of young people here, and a very, very small percentage have expressed a commitment, even by standing here.  Doesn‘t that mean we might have to think of the draft again?                 MCCAIN:  I don‘t think we need to think of the draft again because I don‘t think it makes sense in a whole variety of ways.  But I guarantee you, if these young people felt that this nation was in a crisis and we asked them to serve, virtually every one of them would stand up because I have the greatest confidence in the young people of America.

MATTHEWS:  But, if you were paid better and you had a greater opportunity for education in the military, would anybody else want to stand up here?  See, I‘m wondering, because the military—we talked to John—

McCaffrey says we can‘t do this thing.

MCCAIN:  I talk to young people all the time.  I talk to them one-on-one, I talk to them in small groups.  I don‘t expect a group of people to stand up.  But I‘ll tell you, if I have the chance—with the ones I have a chance to talk to, they understand how wonderful this country is and they are willing to give something back to it.  And that‘s what America‘s all about.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  How many in this room believe in the war in Iraq from beginning to now, support the war in its full reality?  The senator is one of those.  Who else agrees with him?  Stand up.

Stand up, stay up.  Everybody now stay up who intends or would consider participating in this war.  Participating in the war.

MCCAIN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  All you people standing up are planning to participate in the war in some way?  Really?  Everybody here.

MCCAIN:  Thank you very much, my friends.

MATTHEWS:  Because I asked a minute ago how many were going to join the military.  I wonder what your participation would involve.

MCCAIN:  Chris, your bias is starting to show.

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m just trying to get an answer now.  Wait a minute—

I want the people that are standing up.  Somebody yell out why are you standing if you‘re not joining the military.

OK, you were one of those.  Keep going, anybody else?  Of course, look at all the people in the back.  I asked before if anybody was joining the military.  And now you‘re standing up in support of the war but not in terms of a plan to actually participate in a war.  I don‘t get the connection.  Would somebody explain it?


MATTHEWS:  Guys, more?

CROWD:  Strategy.

MATTHEWS:  Pardon me?  Strategy, what was that? 


MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with the audience.  We‘re going to get more questions and answers from the audience when we come back with Senator John McCain. 


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back at Iowa State University with Senator John McCain, our special guest on the HARDBALL College Tour.  Now we‘re going to the audience right away.  Ms., your question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Senator McCain, I‘m curious.  How do you feel about the fact that the United States has essentially been the big brother of the entire rest of the world for a good time now, and do you plan to continue this policy?

MCCAIN:  I think we‘ve been the big brother in many beneficial ways.  Sometimes, not beneficial.  But most of the time, we have been a beacon of hope and freedom and liberty to many countries throughout the world.  Ask people who used to live behind the Iron Curtain.

I think we have been generous.  I think we have never sought someone else‘s country, certainly not in the last century or this one.  And I think that with all our faults and failings, most people in the world still look up to us. 

Now, in the little straight talk, there is some anti-Americanism around the world.  It has to do with Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the war in Iraq and some other things.  But overall, I still would match the United States of America not only against any nation in the world, but any nation that‘s ever existed, and I‘m proud to be an American.


MATTHEWS:  Next question, yes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator McCain, in terms of North Korea, as you know the U.N. Security Council just passed sanctions on them.  If those sanctions don‘t work, what do you see as the next response or response for the United States?

MCCAIN:  I think that first of all, your point is correct in that we‘re not sure it‘s going to work because we‘re not sure how forceably the Chinese will act in cutting off some—particularly across the Chinese and North Korean border.

In other words, whether they will enforce the sanctions scrupulously or not is still an open question.  If they fail, the first thing I would think is we would get a coalition of Japan, South Korea and ourselves and perhaps other countries in the region to impose some of those sanctions as well.

But as I said in my earlier discussion with Chris, the Chinese are very crucial, and the Chinese have to understand that it‘s not in their interest to see these kinds of tensions and confrontation on the Korean peninsula because they are doing very, very well, as you know, economically and emerging as a superpower.

So I would say the next step would probably try to get some other countries to help us, but it would be very hard to be effective.  There are a number of steps that we can take before we would consider a military option in my view, and once we considered a military option, we would have to explain very well to the American people.

MATTHEWS:  Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator McCain, how do you feel about President Bush‘s use of signing statements to reinterpret and ignore provisions of laws passed by Congress?

MCCAIN:  As a member of the legislature, I don‘t like it a damn bit.


MCCAIN:  If the signing statements mean that—and they‘ve been used in the past by other presidents, but not nearly as extensively as this president—that, well, you just object to certain provisions, or you don‘t think some of it is constitutional, that‘s fine.  But if you say you‘re not going to abide by those laws, then that‘s a serious erosion of the separation of powers, and it simply cannot be that way.  That is in violation of the Constitution of the United States.

And if that happened, I would be one of the first to support going to the United States Supreme Court to make sure that those signing statements were advisory in nature and advisory only. 

MATTHEWS:  Next question, just a minute.  We only have half a second, half a minute. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator McCain, there‘s been a lot of generals calling for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld‘s resignation.  How do you feel about that? 

MCCAIN:  Time for a break? 

MATTHEWS:  No.  We got time, senator. 

MATTHEWS:  I have said, as long ago as nearly three years ago, when I was asked if I had confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld, I said I did not.  I       was asked if he should resign.  I said no, that‘s up to the president.  Elections have consequences, the president picks his team, and the president has the right to stay with that team if he wants to. 

MATTHEWS:  As Rumsfeld, you—I‘m not quite clear there.  You think Bush is OK keeping Rumsfeld, but you would dump him? 

MCCAIN:  I do not have confidence in him. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back.  We‘ll get some more questions from the audience the rest of the hour.  We‘ll be right back from Iowa State University.  John McCain at Iowa State, home of the Cyclones.




MATTHEWS:  Next question, fire away.

Thank you, that was great.

Fire away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator McCain, you‘ve always been a very vocal critic of torture.  So why did you sign the Military Commissions Act—or vote for the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which many people say increases the president‘s power to detain and torture suspected terrorists.


MCCAIN:  Thank you. 

We had quite a period of strong, spirited discussion with the administration about that.  We passed, as you know, some months ago a thing called the Detainee Treatment Act, which prohibits any cruel, inhumane treatment, and in this legislation we made it very clear that that still pertained.  I won‘t go through all the details of it, but it does not allow torture, and it will not allow torture.  Video: McCain: I would never allow torture

And at the same time, I think you do understand that there are some people who are very, very bad people, and I think that to continue a program for some of them, without torture, is something that we can‘t deprive the president of the United States of.  But I think we struck the right balance, and I can assure you I would never agree to anything that I believe could allow torture.  I promise you that.

MATTHEWS:  What do you remember—I know you must remember a lot from five and a half years as a prisoner—if you had to testify and say what you remember about that horror, and all that loneliness and all that, perhaps, despair, did you remember anything that you could bring to the table, clinically, and say, I know about torture, that you can‘t know because you didn‘t have it?

MCCAIN:  I could, but I didn‘t because I don‘t think it‘s a fair thing for me to do.  I think it was more appropriate for me to get five former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 35 former generals and admirals, high-ranking...

MATTHEWS:  But why is that better testimony than a person who had been through it? 

MCCAIN:  Because it—you know, people say, well, what exactly happened to you?  Well, what—you just get into—use your own personal experience as some kind of advantage, I don‘t think was fair.  I wanted to fight this battle out on the grounds that America is better than any other country in the world.  We‘re better than our enemies, and if we torture them, then nobody will know the difference between the two countries.  And that was the fundamental reason. 


MATTHEWS:  I just want to say...

MCCAIN:  I meant to say between ourselves and our enemies.

MATTHEWS:  But I will say it a million times, thank you for you service.

But bigger than that, politically, it‘s interesting that you and John Warner and some of the others, Lindsay Graham, who was a JAG, you really do have that military experience in these kinds of cases, and I think it‘s so valuable. 

Next question?

Next question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As we just demonstrated, our military needs as many fine young men and women as it can get, so why do we still have a policy that discriminates the basis of declared sexual orientation?


MATTHEWS:  There‘s a seat over there. 

MCCAIN:  We have to have the most effective and professional military that we can possibly obtain.  I listen to people like General Colin Powell, Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and literally every military leader that I know.  And they testified before Congress that they felt the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy was the most appropriate way to conduct ourselves in the military.  A policy that has been effective.  It has worked. 

Our all-volunteer force—this is another argument against the draft

is the finest military we have ever had in our history.  We have the most qualified, the bravest and most capable military we‘ve ever had in our history, and so I think that the policy is working.  And I understand the opposition to it, and I‘ve had these debates and discussions, but the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, Senator, we ought to change the policy, then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘ll be right back with much more from Iowa State with Senator John McCain on the HARDBALL College Tour, only on MSNBC.



MATTHEWS:  We‘re back at Iowa State University with Arizona Senator John McCain, and this is very tricky territory, and not wishing to offend anyone watching right now, but the question was asked by one of the students here about the policy of the military towards openly gay people serving in the service of our country. 

And yet, we now know, when we look at the page scandal, that gay people, as they always have been, are everywhere.  They‘re part of our culture.  They‘re part of our humanity.  We have gays in Congress, gays in staff positions, in top political leadership.  I suppose the Kinsey numbers apply to everywhere, regular incidence of gay people and straight people. 

Do you think that the cultural wing of your party is ready for that reality that‘s been exposed in the last couple of weeks? 

MCCAIN:  Well, I have not known of the—most of the Republican Party as being intolerant.  I think that my party practices toleration and there are some people who are entitled to their views on this issue, but overall the policy of the Republican Party has been inclusive. 

Video: McCain: No gay marriage, sort of MATTHEWS:  But in so many cases in the last president election—the gay marriage issue was used effectively to rally the Christian conservatives to the polls, and it helped bring about the majorities in states like Ohio.  You‘re saying that your party has never taken a position adversarial to gay marriage and issues like that?

MCCAIN:  On the issue of gay marriage, I do believe, and I think it‘s a correct policy that the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, a marriage between man and woman, should have a unique status.  But I‘m not for depriving any other group of Americans from having rights.  But I do believe that there is something that is unique between marriage between a man and a woman, and I believe it should be protected. 

MATTHEWS:  Should there be—should gay marriage be allowed? 

MCCAIN:  I think that gay marriage should be allowed, if there‘s a ceremony kind of thing, if you want to call it that.  I don‘t have any problem with that, but I do believe in preserving the sanctity of a union between man and woman. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the politics of this case.  It looks like Denny Hastert says he didn‘t know anything about the problem with Mark Foley, even though there was an incident where he, apparently intoxicated, late at night, went over the page dorm looking for people, young men.  And do you believe it‘s possible he didn‘t know about any of these problems involving Mark Foley and pages and ex-pages?  Do you think it‘s credible? 

MCCAIN:  I take him at his word.  There are several investigations going on, and I think we will find out the truth, but I believe everyone has the right of presumption of innocence. 

MATTHEWS:  You called for former senators to do the investigating.

MCCAIN:  Or congressmen, or respected people.  You know, almost every major investigation we‘ve called in an outside counsel or a group of people.  I think that that‘s an appropriate way to do it.  But if not, I think that you will see an investigation.  I understand the FBI is involved in this as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they‘re overdoing it, going back to your colleague, Jim Kolbe?  You know, I‘ve known that guy too, I mean, for a long time.  He seems like a good guy.  And going back into a camping trip 10 years ago with a couple ex-pages, do you think that‘s called for here because of this Foley problem? 

MCCAIN:  I don‘t know what happened so I can‘t judge it.  I do and will continue to say that Jim Kolbe is respected and a good friend of mine.  I—again, I‘m—it would be hard for me to believe that Jim would do anything wrong. 

But if there is reason for an investigation, and that‘s a decision made by the U.S. attorney, I think his office—or that has decided to conduct that investigation, I can‘t say they can‘t investigate it.  If there‘s an allegation against me that‘s credible, then it should be investigated.  I hope that Jim Kolbe—and I believe that he is innocent. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, it took 50 years for the House of Representatives, under Democratic rule, to sort of get the people saying enough of this.  Your party has been in Congress now, in control, since ‘94, and yet there‘s so many signs like this.  What do you make of these things? 

The Abramoff scandal, which has already cost Robert Ney is career and perhaps Conrad Burns in the Senate, and the involvement with the Foley problem, and the overspending, the pork barrel—it seems like your party has been in a relatively short time.  What do you make of these corruption things?  Is it power tending to corrupt, and absolute power corrupt absolutely? 

MCCAIN:  I think that we have overspent.  We have not been good stewards of the taxpayers‘ dollars.  I think that we need to fix the earmarking system.  I think it breeds corruption.  I think it‘s a system when Cunningham was able to do all that, how was he able to do it all by himself with one lobbyist?  So you‘ve got to fix the system. 

I am very proud of many of the accomplishments under Republican stewardship.  I think you just saw the Dow Jones Average hit an all-time high.  I think we have a very healthy economy.  These things don‘t happen by accident, low inflation, low unemployment, healthy economy.  These things don‘t happen by accident.  Low inflation, low unemployment.  Do we have problems and challenges?  Yes.  But I still believe the Republican Party is in far better shape than the other party to lead this country. 

But do we have to reform?  Absolutely.  We know that.  You were just mentioning that there‘s polling numbers that show the approval rating number of Congress very low.  If that approval rating is very low, then we ought to do what‘s necessary to try to restore the voters‘ confidence.  And by the way, some of these allegations and stories are not just confined to the Republican Party issue.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Bill Jefferson came up with $90,000 in his refrigerator on Capitol Hill.

MCCAIN:  Cold cash. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me show you a picture of a young man who‘s making a lot of noise in American politics that‘s on the cover of “Time” magazine.  I don‘t know what the hype is behind—what do you think is behind this hype?  Possible president of the United States, he‘s only 45, two years of service in the U.S. Senate.  Is a man of that limited experience ready for the presidency?

MCCAIN:  I don‘t know.  But that‘s why we have primaries and all that kind of stuff.  But there‘s no doubt and Barack and I have had our differences from time to time.

MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t you call him out once?  I remember you called him out and he buckled.

MCCAIN:  No, he didn‘t.

MATTHEWS:  He did.

MCCAIN:  I have worked with him...

MATTHEWS:  ... Yes, he did.

MCCAIN:  No, he didn‘t.  I have worked with him on a ...

MATTHEWS:  ... He folded, he folded.

MCCAIN:  Stop.

MATTHEWS:  You were the tough guy.

MCCAIN:  He—I have worked with him on a broad variety of reform issues.  He is a serious legislator.  He has a great deal of charisma.  I don‘t know if he runs for president or not this time, because I don‘t know that much about the Democratic Party or his ambitions.  But he is a future leader of this country.  I have great respect for him.

MATTHEWS:  You just passed your 70th birthday and you‘re seeing already these young comers, 45 coming over the Hill trying to make a reputation and you‘re the guy—you could be king of the Hill the next time.  You could do it, you could go all the way and be president of the United States for eight full years.  Do you feel you can beat guys like Barack Obama?  Can you take this guy in 12 rounds?  Can you do it?

MCCAIN:  I think first it would be interesting where I run or not.  But second is where I could win the primary or not.  But we have a generation of young leaders in our Republican Party.  We have John Thune, we have Lindsey Graham, we have John Sununu.  We have Richard Burr.  We have a pretty good crop of young senators and congressmen also that I think will give any of these young Democrats a struggle.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Lindsey would be a good running mate for you come next year?  Lindsey Graham, JAG experience?

MCCAIN:  Lindsey, Sununu, Thune, Burr, there‘s a broad variety of them, both in and out.

MATTHEWS:  When will the McCain household get together and decide whether or not to make this big run for president?

MCCAIN:  After Thanksgiving.

MATTHEWS:  After Turkey day?  What, Friday?  Can I call you on Friday?

MCCAIN:  Please do so.  We have to get together.

MATTHEWS:  HARDBALL would love to have you on and to talk about your plans.

MCCAIN:  Can I just say again, I‘m focusing on this election.  This is going to be a tough race for Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  Can you hold the Senate? 

MCCAIN:  I believe so.

MATTHEWS:  Where are you going to be working the next couple of weeks?

MCCAIN:  I‘m going to be all over, including...

MATTHEWS:  ... Missouri?

MCCAIN:  New Jersey, I‘m going to be in California.  I‘m going to be in...

MATTHEWS:  ... You‘re going to get back and help Mike DeWine?

MCCAIN:   Ohio.  I‘m going to be in Ohio again.

MATTHEWS:  Right, he‘s a tough one.

MCCAIN:  I‘m going to be all over.  I have a full schedule.

MATTHEWS:  This is because you‘re not running for president?

MCCAIN:  Every two years ago.  You know.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re traveling the country?

MCCAIN:  You know that every two years ago I do this, Chris.  Every two years I do this.  I find that I‘m far more popular in even-numbered years than odd-numbered years.

MATTHEWS:  OK, well we‘ll get to see that.  Senator John McCain at Iowa State University.  Here we are, big questions from the audience when we come back.



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to Iowa State University, home of the cyclones with Senator John McCain.  We‘re taking questions from the students.  Let‘s—we‘re going to let that applause subside, and we‘ll go to the next question.  There you are, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My name is Don McDowell (ph), I‘m the chairman of the Iowa State College Republicans and since this is Iowa and Iowa State University and the next Congress will be taking up the farm bill, what sort of provisions do you see in terms of renewable energy, as well as subsidies in the next farm bill?

MCCAIN:  Well Don, thank you for your magnificent work.  You‘re a great American, being chairman of the College Republicans.


MCCAIN:  I—on the issue of the farm bill, we‘re going to re-authorize it.  I am against some subsidies.   don‘t think ethanol needs a subsidy.  I think we ought to make sure that the people who need subsidies, the most, which are the small farmers, not the big agro businesses, not the big huge farms that get millions of dollars.  So I think we ought to look at an area of need, as opposed to size and I think that some of that has to be looked at very carefully.

Could I just mention one other thing?  On the issue of the gay marriage, I believe that people want to have private ceremonies, that‘s fine.  I do not believe that gay marriages should be legal.


MATTHEWS:  Next question. 

MCCAIN:  Obviously some disagree with that last comment.  Thank you, it‘s nice to see you.

MATTHEWS:  They love the ethanol one, though.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m Micha Peterson (ph), I‘m a microbiology major and I‘m a freshman and I‘m originally from Arizona, I lived there for 10 years, and I was wondering what you thought about building a fence on the border between the United States and Mexico.

MCCAIN:  Thank you for the question.  Obviously, we must secure our borders.  They are broken and since 9/11, it‘s a national security issue.  But I believe we also need to do other things besides secure our border.  I think we need a temporary worker program.  And I think we need to address the issue of 11 or 12 million people who are here illegally.  I think we better be humane about it and I think we ought to be sensitive.  But I also think national security is our first priority and I think we can work out an agreement on that issue.  And I think we should all sit down, because it‘s a major issue in America today, and a cause of great concern.  If some bad people came across our border, we would all regret it very badly.  And so we need to secure our border, but I think, as our president does and many others do, we need a comprehensive approach as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you expect a lame duck bill? 

Video: McCain: Shut down GITMO MCCAIN:  I hope so.  I hope we can work it out, the sooner, the better we can address the issue sooner. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you both coming. 

Senator, with the passage of the Military Commissions Act, do you think this is just going to hurt our credibility abroad? 

MCCAIN:  I don‘t think so, because I think you‘re going to see people go on trial very soon, and I think that their cases are going to be addressed, which is one of the problems.  As you know, they‘ve been there without having the proper tribunals.  I think you will see that torture is not practiced.  I think that you will see that we are addressing the issue of these people in a way that is both humane but also preserves our national security. 

I think that Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are terrible for our image.  I would want to shut down Guantanamo Bay if at all possible. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with our next break.  We‘re going to have more questions from the audience from Iowa State University, home of the Cyclones.  We‘ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

Do you like bright ties?


MATTHEWS:  I was told men must wear bright ties.  But I have no idea, this thing looks like, I don‘t know what I‘m celebrating tonight.  Anyway, it‘s great to have you.

MCCAIN:  I should have worn my sunglasses.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s nobody better.  I was with you down at Clemson, right before the South Carolina where they beat the hell out of you down there and put out all that dirt.

MCCAIN:  Notre Dame.

MATTHEWS:  Have you forgiven the Bushies for what they did against you?

MCCAIN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Karl Rove, you‘ve forgiven him completely?   You‘re not really Irish at all about this?

MCCAIN:  You have to—after I lost in South Carolina, I slept like baby, sleep two hours, wake up and cry, sleep two hours, wake up and cry.

Can I just mention, and I don‘t mean to polish any apples, but I have had the pleasure of doing this with you a few times.  I would rather do this than anything in America because this is what America is all about, and the future of America.  And thank you for coming today. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much. 


MATTHEWS:  In that spirit, everybody says, why don‘t young people vote.  And my answer is the college tour, which is why don‘t we bring politics to them.  And that‘s what we‘ve done here tonight. 

I want to ask you this, in all honesty, would you really commit suicide if the Senate went Democrat?  I couldn‘t believe your statement...

MCCAIN:  I thought that was a pretty good line.

MATTHEWS:  But is it that important? 

MCCAIN:  I think it‘s important to America, but I think it‘s—every once in a while, we should have a little levity. 


Let‘s give the news reporters something to work with.  If in three weeks, the polls hold true and the Democrats get, maybe what they don‘t deserve, because they get it because the other party blew it, but...


You know, Iowa State, I expected more than an 8th grade response to what I just said.  That was—blew it, I get it.  You guys are amazing. 

If the party does fail because of being in too long, being used to the place, and you lose the House and the Senate ends up being on the edge there, what is the message from the American people to the Republican Party? 

MCCAIN:  We have to do a better job, we have to reform, we have to return to the fundamentals of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.  But I don‘t think we‘re going to lose.  I think we‘ve still, we‘ve got three weeks to go.  I think we got a vigorous campaign, a good economy, the world is safer and America is safer than it was.  And I think we need to emphasize those themes. 

MATTHEWS:  You think Karl Rove has a little October surprised up his sleeve?

MCCAIN:  I don‘t think so.  I think that if we can make sure that Americans know that we have a safer world, we‘re fighting the war on terror as best we can, we have a good economy, we have a vision for the future, we can prevail.  But everybody knows this is a tough election, and to say otherwise would be just foolish. 

MATTHEWS:  Is a life in politics potentially a good life? 

MCCAIN:  Yes.  The greatest opportunities in my life has been in politics, and to be in places like this, no people like here in Iowa and all over this country.  I have had more privileges and more exposure and more friends and—it‘s the greatest thing—I‘m the luckiest man you will ever meet in politics.  I really am. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator John McCain, thank you for your service. 

MCCAIN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Senator John McCain, and the great people at Iowa State University who so graciously hosted our HARDBALL College Tour tonight.  What a great group.  Before we go tonight, Iowa State wants to say a special goodbye to you tonight. 


Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints


Discussion comments