McCain, Bush tensions build

Meeting is still on -- for now.

By Jake Tapper
Published April 28, 2000 1:15PM (EDT)

Sen. John McCain says his May 9 meeting with George W. Bush "hasn't been taken off the schedule" -- yet. However, he sent a message to Bush and his campaign: "If you don't want to have this meeting, then that's fine with us."

The statement follows an angry reaction from McCain Thursday, when he called an aide and told him to "scrub the meeting" with Bush. The reaction was prompted by a column by Robert Novak, who wrote that Bush advisors anticipate "all pain and little satisfaction" from the meeting with McCain, who they believe will make certain demands on Bush before giving the presidential candidate his endorsement. Novak also cited "people in private contact with" McCain who say "his iron resolve not to consider the vice presidency" might be softening.

By Friday morning, the meeting still hadn't been canceled, though its future was uncertain. McCain has been in Vietnam commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

There are more reasons besides the Novak column why McCain apparently doesn't want to meet with Bush. McCain says he and his staff have been pushing a comprehensive agenda, and that if the two do meet it should be a meeting of substance and not a photo op. "They only want to talk about two things -- campaign finance reform and the vice presidency. We're not going to agree on either one," McCain said.

Bush has been unwilling to put together a list of reform issues that the two politicians could agree on, such as Social Security, according to McCain. "Lacking that, I don't see the point" of a meeting, McCain said.

This has a lot to do with "an obligation to the millions of people to whom I promised a reform agenda," McCain said. "They expect me to pursue that agenda."

Contacted Thursday, Bush campaign spokesman Scott McClellan said the campaign was still optimistic the meeting would take place. "Governor Bush has said all along that he believes he and Senator McCain can work together on the reforms that they agree upon, and expects it to be a productive meeting," McClellan said. He noted that the Bush campaign "remains in close contact with McCain's staff."

Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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George W. Bush John Mccain