WASHINGTON – Sen. John McCain threatened on Tuesday to cut short a speech to union leaders who booed his immigration views and later challenged his statements on organized labor and the Iraq war.
“If you like, I will leave,” McCain told the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, pivoting briefly from the lectern. He returned to the microphone after the crowd quieted.
“OK, then please give me the courtesy I would give you.”
It was a contentious session that tested McCain’s commitment to the straight-talking image he honed during his failed 2000 presidential bid. McCain is expected to seek the 2008 GOP nomination as a front-runner.
“I loved it. I love mixing it up like that,” McCain said after the speech to a Democratic-leaning crowd of several hundred.
He did seem to enjoy the back and forth that began minutes into his address, when he mentioned campaigning on behalf of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fellow Republican. The crowd booed the reference to Schwarzenegger but laughed at McCain’s self-effacing joke that followed.
He said somebody came up to him at the Schwarzenegger event and said, “Do people tell you look like John McCain?”
“Yes, they do.”
“Doesn’t that make you madder than hell?”
Later, the Arizona senator outlined his position on the Senate immigration debate, saying tougher border enforcement must be accompanied by guest-worker provisions that give illegal immigrants a legal path toward citizenship. Murmurs from the crowd turned to booing. “Pay a decent wage!” one audience member shouted.
“I’ve heard that statement before,” McCain said before threatening to leave.
Afterward, the senator said he offered to cut his speech short “because I wanted to be heard.”
In the speech, McCain also argued that withdrawing U.S. troops prematurely from Iraq would turn terrorists loose on the United States.