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McCain, Obama Trade Barbs In Separate Talk Shows


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.



And I'm Deborah Amos, sitting in for Steve Inskeep.

The two leading presidential contenders had a debate yesterday, except it wasn't in person. Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama traded barbs on different Sunday talk shows. In a moment, we'll hear from NPR's news analyst Cokie Roberts on the candidates' week ahead. But first, we'll hear how the two laid out contrasting positions, from Iraq to the energy crisis. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: Over the past week, John McCain's accused Barack Obama of being willing to lose a war in order to win an election. ABC's "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos challenged McCain on that remark in an interview at McCain's Arizona ranch, saying it questioned Obama's honor, decency and character, as well as his patriotism.

(Soundbite of TV show "This Week")

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): I'm not questioning his patriotism. I am saying that he made the decision which was political in order to help him get the nomination of his party.


Mr. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (Host, "This Week"): So putting lives at risk for a political campaign - you believe he's doing that?

Sen. McCAIN: I believe that when he said that we had to leave Iraq and we had to be out by last March and we had to have a date certain, that was in contravention to - and still is - to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General David Petraeus.

WELNA: Obama's reply came a few hours later on CNN's "Late Edition" in a live broadcast from the Unity conference of minority journalists in Chicago. He said he could see why General Petraeus would like to have as much flexibility as possible for a troop pullout.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): But when you've got the prime minister of Iraq, the people of Iraq saying they are ready to take more responsibility, when you were seeing more Iraqi forces take the lead and actions, we need to take advantage of that opportunity, particularly because we've got to deal with Afghanistan. And we can't keep spending $10 billion a month in Iraq at a time when we've got enormous pressing needs here in the United States of America.

WELNA: There were also profound differences between the two contenders on how the U.S. should press its agenda abroad. McCain insisted on ABC's "This Week" that even though every other member of the G8 opposes expelling Russia as a member, he would still push to do so if elected.

(Soundbite of TV show "This Week")

Sen. McCAIN: I will stand up for what I think is the best for the United States of America and the world. The way that Ronald Reagan went to Berlin and said tear down this wall, and they said, oh, he's a cowboy. He's going to make relations worse. He shouldn't say that. And yet we wanted the wall down. We want better Russian behavior internationally, and we have every right to expect it.

WELNA: Obama's just back from upstaging McCain's campaign for a week with a trip to the Middle East and Europe and much hobnobbing with heads of state. He declared at the Unity Conference that the task for George W. Bush's successor...

Sen. OBAMA: Whoever the next president is has to make certain that we project ourselves on the world stage with a sense of humility, a sense that we are listening to others, 'cause one of the problems with our foreign policy is the sense that we are very clear about our own interests, but not so clear about other people's interests.

WELNA: McCain, for his part, focused less on Obama's travels than on the Democrat's decision not to visit injured U.S. troops at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Sen. McCAIN: I think people make a judgment by what we do and what we don't do. We certainly found time to do other things.

WELNA: Obama's campaign says he cancelled the troop visit because the Pentagon considered it a campaign event. He was not asked about that no show at the Unity conference, nor in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press." But Obama did use that appearance to heap some blame for high gas prices on McCain.

Sen. OBAMA: The fact of the matter is, is that we should have over the last 20 years been planning for this day. I have been an advocate for raising fuel efficiency standards for years, something that John McCain has opposed.

WELNA: McCain on ABC put the blame for high gas prices on a White House controlled by his own party and the legislative branch he's belonged to for 25 years.

Sen. McCAIN: This administration - for 30 years, Congress and the administrations have not done anything on this energy crisis. Now it's hurting low income Americans the most.

WELNA: Actual face-to-face debates between the two candidates can be expected this fall.

David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.