Video: McCain in exclusive interview

NBC News and news services
updated 6/11/2008 1:14:58 PM ET 2008-06-11T17:14:58

Record high prices for gasoline probably won't drop any lower before the November election, Republican John McCain said Wednesday.

"I don't think it's going much lower, and it could go higher," McCain said on NBC's "Today Show." "I don't think so, not when you've got a finite supply, basically, and a cartel controlling it."

Although the GOP presidential candidate didn't address the question of raising taxes on oil companies, he said the companies "absolutely" should return some profits to consumers. "And they should be embarking on research and development that will pay off in reducing our dependence on foreign oil," he said.

"The point is, oil companies have got to be more participatory in alternate energy, in sharing their profits in a variety of ways, and there is very strong and justifiable emotion about their profits," McCain said.

The issue of oil company profits came up this week in the Senate, where Republicans stopped the Democrats from imposing a tax on windfall profits and taking away billions of dollars in tax breaks in response to the $4-a-gallon price of gas.

In the past McCain has indicated he would consider such a tax proposal, saying he didn't want to see companies making "obscene profits" that distort the market.

McCain used the opportunity to bring up his proposal for a gas tax holiday that would suspend the federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, a proposal that Democratic rival Barack Obama dismisses as a gimmick. Critics say that cutting the price would only increase demand, which would lead to higher prices again.

"Look what's happened to Americans who are on a fixed income, particularly low-income Americans — that's why I wanted to give them a little break," McCain said. "They drive the furthest. They drive the automobiles that use the most gasoline. I wanted to give them a little break for the summer."

Video: McCain on Iraq In the interview, McCain said President Bush's strategy to increase the number of troops in Iraq last year is working. McCain has been an ardent supporter of the Iraq war, but he criticized the early handling of the war, saying Bush did not send enough troops initially. In fact, he challenged the characterization that the strategy of increasing troop levels was Bush's: "May I correct that statement? I advocated the surge policy before President Bush."

McCain was asked if, since he argues the strategy is working, he has a better estimate for when U.S. troops could leave Iraq.

"No, but that's not too important," McCain said. "What's important is casualties in Iraq.

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"Americans are in South Korea. Americans are in Japan. American troops are in Germany. That's all fine. American casualties, and the ability to withdraw. We will be able to withdraw. ... But the key to it is we don't want any more Americans in harm's way."

Citing the presidential hopeful's phrase "not too important," Congressional Democrats weighed in, with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joe Biden calling McCain's statement "evidence that he is totally out of touch with the needs of our troops and the national security needs of our nation."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also responded, saying McCain's language is "a crystal clear indicator that he just doesn't get the grave national security consequences of staying the course."

But the McCain campaign fired back, calling the Democratic response "false" and a "baseless political attack" in an email statment.

Obama wants to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, which McCain opposes.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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