Straight Talk Express in Beverly Hills

Michael Jones filed this report from John McCain’s press availability Wednesday evening in Beverly Hills:

As the White House continued their puzzlement over former press secretary Scott McClellan’s new tell-all book — “This is not the Scott we knew” — John McCain struggled to keep an LA press conference on his topic: Obama.

Organizers perhaps hadn’t anticipated the interest Hollywood had in McCain this trip.  Though he claimed “I can compete in California.  We can win in California,” there are serious doubts that he will carry the state. 

But the McClellan story had been snowballing all morning that by the afternoon, the soapbox-sized meeting room at the Beverly Hilton was overflowing.

In an opening statement, McCain began with a shot at Obama, whom he congratulated for finally considering a trip to Iraq after 871 days – “I’m confident that when he goes he will then change his position because he will see the success that has been achieved on the ground.”

But the press had other topics in mind.

When questioned on McCellan’s assertion that the Bush White House used propoganda and deception to move the American people to war – McCain brushed it off and tried to steer it to Obama: “I have no information about that… But it’s also very clear that I strongly opposed the failed strategy in Iraq after visiting Iraq on several occasions.  I haven’t seen the book and can’t make additional comments.”

When questioned about why, despite his spirit of openness, that he keeps his fund raisers closed to the press, McCain again brought it around to Obama, saying that in fund raisers he doesn’t bring up comments about embittered voters turning away from religion or the constitution because of their economic condition. 

Later, a journalist took him to task about that, asking since McCain keeps his fundraisers off limits, how are they supposed to verify that he isn’t saying the same things that Obama did — “Are we just supposed to take your word for it?”

McCain’s answer was simple: “If you want to. You don’t have to.”

On gay marriage, McCain said “My position has always been maintaining the unique status of marriage between a man and a woman.  And I believe the people should decide that rather than the courts.” 

On the heels of a California Field Poll that shows the tide has swung in favor of gay marriage, one journalist noted that he may get his wish.

If Senator Obama were to go to Iraq and return remaining committed to withdrawing US troops, would McCain have more respect for Obama’s views or “would he continue to ridicule his view as you do on a daily basis?” 

“I’m not sure I understand the question, but the facts on the ground there are clear.”

As a followup: “So anybody that sees it differently, and that would include a majority of Americans, are all wrong?”

McCain replied, “I think most Americans believe that if we can come home with honor and not have to go back and make further sacrifice of blood and treasure that over time they will support it.”

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