Tammy Haddad spoke with John McCain adviser Carly Fiorina for the July 11 edition of "National Journal On Air." This is a transcript of their conversation.
Q: Carly Fiorina, top economic adviser to Senator John McCain. Carly, I know you're on the road with the candidate, where are you right now?
Fiorina: Well, we're actually in St. Paul.
Q: Excellent. I have to start by asking you about the news today. First of all, crude oil hit an all-new record, $147 a barrel. Any comments on that?
Fiorina: Well, I think it just reinforces what John McCain has been saying for some time, which is the need to establish now a plan for achieving mastery of our own fate in terms of energy. And so he has proposed the Lexington Project, which not only takes advantage of our own resources more effectively, it also calls for nuclear power plant building across this nation, which will not only help provide a greener source of fuel but also hundreds of thousands of jobs. And he also proposed -- in addition to a comprehensive way to achieve energy independence -- he also has proposed a tax holiday for gasoline and diesel fuel, which would help Americans a lot right now. I don't think we're going to see the price of oil going down in the near future, that's the reality.
Q: I have to ask you about Senator Gramm's comments this week. He, like you, is a top adviser to Senator McCain. Can you give me your reaction to his comments that it's a 'mental recession'?
Fiorina: Well, look, John McCain has been very clear on this. First of all, he believes that we are in a recession, as do I. Secondly, the technical definitions of whether we're in a recession or not don't matter to the millions of people who are hurting right now either because they've lost their jobs or they fear they'll lose their jobs or because of the price of fuel and the price of food. And I think John McCain was also equally clear yesterday when he said that Phil Gramm doesn't speak for him, John McCain speaks for himself.
Q: But how helpful is it when Senator Gramm says, "I'm not going to retract a single word"?
Fiorina: You know what, you need to talk to Senator Gramm about Senator Gramm's comments. I think John McCain was really clear that Phil Gramm wasn't speaking for him, and if you go back and look at John McCain's statements about the economy, or, frankly, if you look at mine, you'll see absolute consistency over time, that this is very difficult for Americans, that we probably are in a recession, but more importantly than that, the technical definitions don't matter. What matters is Americans are hurting and we have to get this economy growing again and creating jobs again and we've got to give Americans a little relief.
Q: Does Senator McCain need to take him to the woodshed?
Fiorina: Oh, I think he did yesterday. I don't know, Tammy, if you saw his comments yesterday, but what he said was -- he was asked specifically whether Phil Gramm would have a position in his Cabinet and his answer was, "I think he'd make a fine ambassador to Belarus, although the citizens of Minsk might not welcome him." I think that's pretty clear. And you know, let's talk about the issues that Americans care about; most Americans have never heard of Phil Gramm and don't care what he says.
Q: Well, let's talk about what they're going to hear about today, and that is Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whether or not the government is going to take over. They're down 25 percent. Do you support the government takeover? What do you think the solution is?
Fiorina: Well, first, let's just say, Fannie and Freddie are incredibly important institutions because they provide the backbone for the mortgage system in this country. Fannie and Freddie together have helped millions of Americans achieve the American dream of owning a home, so they're incredibly important institutions and they cannot be allowed to fail. Second, reform is clearly necessary and John McCain called for that yesterday, he is calling again for that today, reforms focused on increasing both transparency and accountability of those two institutions. Third, Fannie and Freddie need more capital; it's clear the issue now is where does that capital come from. And fourth, what we're seeing a little bit is the crisis of confidence here. So, I'm sure that -- well, I've talked with him about it this morning and Senator McCain is monitoring the situation very closely, as are many other people, and we'll see what happens here. But these institutions cannot be allowed to fail, and clearly there is some role for government in ensuring their stability as well as their reform.
Q: Also this week, there were comments that you made about health insurance, which I know is a big issue to Senator McCain, and whether or not insurance plans -- the fact that they cover Viagra but they won't cover birth control. Can you tell us what McCain's position is on that?
Fiorina: Well, let me tell you what I said, because that seems to be creating controversy. I was being questioned by a reporter who said he didn't believe that Americans wanted a choice in their health insurance programs, that he believed that Americans would be happy with a government mandate and no choice. And I said, "I just don't think that's true." I know many, many Americans who would like to have a choice in their health insurance program. And he said, "Well give me one example." I said, "OK, I'll give you one example." There are lots of women who are covered by a health insurance plan today that doesn't cover the cost of their birth control although it would cover Viagra; that's not what many women would like. By the way, it's a factual comment.
Q: And what about Senator McCain? What was his reaction to your comments? Did you guys talk about it?
Fiorina: No, we haven't talked about it, there's been no need to talk about it. I was giving a simple, factual example of a situation where some people do want a choice, they're not going to be satisfied with a single-optioned, government-mandated solution as this reporter was suggesting.
Q: I see. I want to go back to the market again because we're now in a bear market, down 20 percent. If rich people stop spending money, what's going to happen? You talked about the crisis of confidence, but a presidential candidate and a president themselves -- how can they actually change the market?
Fiorina: Well, I think first of all, the most important thing this president can do is make sure that this economy is growing again and that we are creating jobs. And if this economy is growing and we're creating jobs, then the stock market will recover. And one of the things that John McCain has consistently said -- and, as a business person, I enthusiastically support -- is when you have a bad economy and a down stock market, you do not raise taxes and you do not resort to protectionism. The last time we did that was 1929, when the economy was in a recession, the stock market dropped and the government at that time raised taxes and raised tariffs, which in essence were a protectionist measure, and a recession became a depression. Now, I'm not comparing what's going on right now to 1929, because I don't think they're comparable; I'm only suggesting that history tells us that when you have a bad economy and when the stock market is down, you don't raise taxes, which is what [Barack] Obama would do, and you don't resort to protectionism, which is what he also apparently would do. What you do is lower taxes, help small businesses hire and grow, and you make sure that we continue to support free trade, because the only two sectors of the economy that are growing right now are small business and exports. We need to keep them growing.
Q: Are you being vetted for vice president?
Fiorina: Oh Tammy, you've asked me that a million times.
Q: Well, I have to ask you on radio!
Fiorina: You know what -- I'm trying to make a difference right now in getting this man elected. It's an honor to do so. I think he will make a great president of the United States and he's going to have a long list of people that he can choose from, and when he's ready to make that choice, he'll make that choice.
Q: Have you given him your list? Your list of suggestions?
Fiorina: I would never presume to give him a list.
Q: OK. At Hewlett-Packard, final question, you had all the great glory, you had bad times, you had it all, the McCain campaign has been the same kind of situation: great glory, problems like the Phil Gramm situation this week. Which is more difficult?
Fiorina: That's an odd question. Look, any work that we're doing, any work that's worth doing, has its ups and downs. That's life. Any work that's worth doing has its challenges as well as its opportunities. That's true if you're running a business, it's true if you're trying to help on a campaign.
Q: I thank you for your comments, Carly Fiorina from the campaign trail with Senator McCain.
Fiorina: Thanks, Tammy, great to be with you.