- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sen. John McCain yesterday said a majority of voters are still conservative and added the Republican Party must return to basic principles of limited government in order to recapture their support.

“We increased the size of government in the false hope that we could bribe the public into keeping us in office. And the people punished us,” the Arizona Republican said. “We lost our principles and our majority, and there is no way to recover our majority without recovering our principles first.”

He also said last week’s elections, in which Republicans lost control of the House and Senate, were not an endorsement of Democratic ideas, nor of an isolationist approach to foreign policy.

He called the war in Iraq “one heck of a mess,” and said voters showed they were unhappy with the way it was being fought, “but let’s be clear. That’s the limit of what they told us about Iraq and the war on terrorism.”

“They didn’t tell us to forget the sacrifices of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan or to choose a course that would imperil their mission,” he said.

Mr. McCain took the first step this week toward a 2008 presidential run by establishing an exploratory committee, and delivered two major speeches yesterday — one to GOPAC, a Republican political action committee, and the other to the Federalist Society, a group of conservative lawyers.

Speaking to the Federalist Society, which has been active in the battles over President Bush’s judicial nominees, Mr. McCain praised Mr. Bush’s picks for federal judgeships.

He also said the standard for evaluating judges is that their decisions “must rest on more than his subjective conviction that he is right or his eagerness to address a perceived social ill.”

He praised former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and both of Mr. Bush’s picks for the Supreme Court: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The senator said he was “proud of my role” in the “Gang of 14,” the group of seven Republican senators and seven Democrats that banded together to head off a final showdown over judges on the Senate floor.

The seven Republicans agreed to oppose the “nuclear option” on judges, which Republican leaders had sought as a way to end filibusters on judicial nominees, in exchange for the seven Democrats pledging to forgo filibusters on all but the most extreme judges.

Mr. McCain said he wanted to preserve the filibuster option for future times, but also said the deal struck by the 14 senators has helped to push through some of Mr. Bush’s more contentious nominees.

“President Bush now has a higher percentage of his nominations confirmed to both the district courts and the circuit courts than did President Clinton during his presidency,” the senator said.

Mr. McCain was introduced at the Federalist Society by Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general and a leading conservative lawyer, who gave a seven-minute testimonial to Mr. McCain’s “patriotism, character and integrity.”

The senator drew a standing ovation at the beginning and at the end of his remarks.

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