Starting momentarily. I don't have a question planned. Too busy getting that podcast up and so forth. I'm not going to ask why he said "f*ck you" to Senator Cornyn, or why he thinks people aren't going to think that he's too much of a hothead to be President, or whether he actually is too much of a hothead to be President, or what he would say to the face of whoever it was who tattled about his saying "f*ck you" -- presumably "f*ck you" -- or whether he wasn't in fact trying to bully people about the immigration bill, or didn't he know this would piss everyone off -- but I can't say "piss" to a Senator -- or wasn't Cornyn right that he was parachuting in? Maybe: Isn't there a problem running for President while trying to play an effective role in the Senate and doesn't this put you at a terrible disadvantage running against Giuliani and Romney (and Fred Thompson)?
Now, I'm on hold, listening to music... which includes some Huey Lewis and the News ("If This Is It"). I'll type out some notes as we go and update with numbered additions:
1. McCain says message today is government reform. We need to be "careful stewards of our tax dollars." And he is saying that the reports of his exchange with Senator Cornyn were "a bit exaggerated." "Every day kind of hard words are exchanged from time to time, and I'm sorry that YouTube wasn't there" to show us the whole thing. And the immigration system is broken.
2. I got my question in first. Surprising, because I wasn't trying to get in first and was rather shocked to have to go first. After his answer, they didn't bring in a second questioner, as I expected them to. There was a long silence. I was still on, and McCain said, "Anything else?" which left me to follow up, I received a longer answer, and had time to follow up on that as well.
3. A question about Ron Paul's interest in a new 9/11 investigation. McCain is disturbed if people get too interested in conspiracy theories, but it's healthy up to a point. A lot of this talk really reflects hostility toward George Bush.
4. I've missed taking notes on a few of the questions. Several questions on immigration. Here's a question about how Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney are using the immigration issue against him. "Maybe I should wait a couple of weeks," he says, and see if he changes. "Maybe his solution will be to get out his small varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his lawn." [ADDED: There's some talk in the comments about this wisecrack. I think it means that Romney has nothing but a lot of stupid tough talk meant to appeal to the Republican base. Being a rich guy, Romney probably has plenty of illegal immigrants doing his yardwork, and to picture him getting out his small varmint gun to drive them away is to lampoon his empty tough talk.][UPDATE: I'm emailed this news story: Illegal Guatemalan immigrants really did work for Romney. In that context, I think McCain's remark is f*cking hilarious.][And here's the story that's the source for the reference to the "small varmint gun": "'I'm not a big-game hunter,' said Mitt Romney, campaigning in Indianapolis. 'I've made that very clear. I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will.'" Who says "varmints" and "if you will"?][MORE: Politico has the actual audio from this part of the phone call. Based on that, I've changed the quote to say "his solution will be to get out" instead of "he'll get out" and "those Guatemalans" instead of "the Guatemalans."]
5. He acknowledges the difficulty of presenting his position on immigration because it's so complex. It doesn't fit a sound bite. And people are very emotional, more emotional than on any other issue he's seen (except abortion). He hopes "maybe some of the emotion will die down and cool off a bit." The intensity of the emotion surprised him, because he'd thought the President's support would make things go more easily. [As a commenter notes, this notion is inconsistent with his earlier statement about all the hostility toward Bush. I thought of that when I wrote this point, but decided not to mention it because I think the idea is that it's hard to put together a solution to such a complicated problem, and having the President on board signals that this is our real chance to get something passed. Obviously, there is a huge problem here though. They seem to have adopted a strategy of making it look like a done deal -- and even the only possible deal -- and the bluff was called. Now what?]
6. David Brody (of CBS) notes McCain is "getting it" from the right and the left on immigration. Is the greater pressure from the right or from the left? I don't expect him to choose which and he doesn't. "We need to appear and actually be humane" on the immigration issue, because Republicans need to appeal to Hispanic voters. Hispanic voters have good reason to go Republican, because they tend to be involved in small business and to oppose abortion.
7. "I'll do this every week if you want to," he says at the end. He says that he realizes the immigration matter is hurting him politically. And he brings up YouTube again, saying that next time they have a close-door meeting he wants to make sure YouTube is there to record "any fireworks that may ensue" because it would be "entertaining." It's sort of hip to refer to YouTube, but he doesn't seem to know that YouTube doesn't go around filming things. If you want to something on YouTube, Senator McCain, you can make that happen. When are the candidates going to start carrying around their own cameras and doing some clips in a DIY-style and to put on YouTube. It would be like that part of "Journeys With George" when George Bush takes the camera from HBO documentarian Alexandra Pelosi and starts interviewing her. It was quite charming and cool... back in the 2000 campaign, oh, so long ago, when Bush could seem rather charming and cool....
8. Okay, let me get my head together and try to remember my conversation with McCain. I asked whether it isn't a problem to try to run for President and play an effective role in the Senate at the same time. I noted that it seemed to put him at a disadvantage running against his opponents. His first reaction was that he thought he'd already answered that question, which I think was a response he'd prepared to say if anyone tried to ask him anything about the Cornyn incident. He then switched to talking more generally either about immigration or repeating what he'd said in the introductory statement that was supposed to have preempted my question. At that point, I thought, okay, fine, he's not going to answer. Then silence, with me expecting the next questioner to come forward. He then says, "Anything else?" So I said, I accept the point about harsh language, but I was interested to know what he thought about how people are trying to hurt him with it and, more importantly, about the difficulty running for President when he needs to work with other people who may quite legitimately think that he actually is just "parachuting in." I'm not sure there is anything he can really say to that, now that I think about it more. What can he say? Yeah, you're right -- I'm f*cked. His response was about how much he's worked on the immigration issue -- and many other issues over the years -- and how much he can do off-site. I then said that I respected his work and the difficulty of the issue and that I'd defended him about the language use. My concern was only the way this was affecting the campaign. I can't remember if he said anything new after that, but he did speak again. It was interesting to get to talk to him that long. I hadn't planned to do that and found it rather stressful!
9. One thing that I thought during my question-and-answer was: Maybe he'll get mad at me. Frankly, I think he did, but he didn't tell me to go f*ck myself. I note that the conversation was all recorded at their end. Unlike with the last conference call he did with us, we were told at the outset that it was going to be recorded and invited to hang up if we didn't consent. Whether this is a new precaution because of the Cornyn incident, I don't know, but I think it is a very important precaution when talking with bloggers, because we might write up inaccurate or out-of-context quotes. I note that the L.A. Times used quotes I produced after a Giuliani conference call. I try to be scrupulous, but if I were a candidate, I wouldn't trust bloggers.
10. Hey, no one picked up on his government reform issue of the day. Crushingly dull, I guess.