(Adds quotes from interview, background)
By Jeff Mason
DENVER, Oct 2 Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Thursday listed investor Warren Buffett and former eBay chief Meg Whitman as potential Treasury secretaries in his administration but declined to say if he would consider asking current Secretary Henry Paulson to stay.
McCain noted in an interview with Reuters that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke had a "set term" and as president he would decide whether to reappoint Bernanke based on economic conditions at the time.
The U.S. financial crisis and $700 billion Wall Street bailout bill in Congress has heightened interest in who would steer Treasury in the next administration.
"I think it would be someone that Americans would recognize that would inspire trust and confidence," the Arizona senator said. "There's people like (Cisco chief executive) John Chambers, there's people like Meg Whitman, there's people like Warren Buffett," he continued, adding that these people could serve in one of many jobs that would need to be filled.
McCain said he would choose a Republican or Democrat who is highly respected to lead the department. Buffett, 78, who McCain admitted may not be interested in the job because of his age or other factors, has endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
When asked about Bernanke's performance during the U.S. financial crisis, McCain said: "He has a set term, so I certainly would have to look again at the overall situation as it exists at the time when I would be making those selections, but the fact is that he is in a term of office."
McCain said he had great respect for the Fed chair.
"I think he's worked very hard. I think again a lot of it depends on how all this turns out. ... Success or failure is a criteria that obviously many of us judge an individual by, and so we'll just have to wait and see."
Bernanke's four-year term as Fed chief expires on January 31, 2010. His 14-term as a member of the Fed's Board of Governors goes through January 2020.
THE POLLS, THE DOLLAR, AND TRADE
McCain said he was "guardedly optimistic" the bailout bill would pass the House of Representatives. McCain's own handling of the crisis has coincided with a dip in public opinion polls against Obama.
"You just put one foot ahead of the other," McCain said in reaction to the polls.
"I always relish the underdog status. You know, given the overall situation, I'm very pleased where we are as we enter the last month of the campaign."
McCain said the financial crisis would not alter his campaign promises to keep taxes low or to balance the federal budget by 2013.
"We can balance it by 2013 if we get our economy going again and don't take measures which will harm our economy," he said. "It depends on whether we have the will to do so or not and restraint of spending is a huge aspect of this."
The Arizona senator, who often talks about the importance of a strong dollar, said he would do what he could to bolster the U.S. currency but declined to speculate about intervention.
"The first step that has to be taken is obviously we have to stop mortgaging our economy to China ... and asking them to finance our debt," he said.
"That, I think, would have the most salutary effect in the short term. But I can't give you all the hypotheticals that would go into an 'intervention' and what that intervention would be."
McCain said advancing the Doha trade negotiations would be a priority in his administration.
"We need to give it great urgency," he said, adding that it was important to rein in "some of the protectionist sentiments" that the United States and other participating countries have in certain economic sectors.
Asked if he would be a visible presence in international talks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and replace the Kyoto Protocol, McCain, who has clashed with fellow Republicans over climate change, said he would do "whatever is necessary to try to move forward."
He said he would involve former Vice President Al Gore in efforts to address the issue. "I would tap him, I would tap people who have been involved in these issues for many years." McCain noted that he disagreed with the Nobel Peace Prize winner about nuclear energy but added, "I have great respect for Al Gore." (Editing by David Alexander and Chris Wilson)