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McCain looks back, praises Obama team

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Arizona Sen. John McCain, in his first news conference since losing his bid for the presidency, applauded President-elect Obama's cabinet appointments so far, particularly that of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) potentially as Homeland Security secretary.

Interesting, considering she hasn't been nominated yet, and convenient, since Napolitano was seen as a top rival for McCain's Senate seat in 2010.

Thank you, Mr. President-elect. A couple of chits for Obama with McCain -- (1) Eliminating a top political opponent and (2) Making nice with Joe Lieberman.

VIDEO: McCain gives his first news conference since losing his bid for the presidency.

"I intend to run again," McCain said, adding that he will make an official announcement at the appropriate time. "I always expect a tough race," McCain added later, lightheartedly cocking a fist and smiling.

McCain also reflected on the campaign, saying he looks "back with pride and honor."

"You really have to take an attitude ... that what a great honor it's been to be able to serve this country for so long," he said, adding, "We worked hard, and we inspired a lot of people, Sarah Palin and I. I think we look back with pride ... [and] accept very much that people have made a decision."

Regarding Palin, he said she has a "very bright future in the leadership of the Republican Party." He added that she was chosen, first and foremost, because she was a "reformer" -- not because of political considerations that a woman could have been potentially helpful in swaying Hillary Clinton voters.

In a bit of post-election analysis on why he lost, McCain pointed to that when the campaign started, Iraq was a top issue, but that later shifted to the economy as the top concern. Voters were looking for a change in the stewardship of the country and economic philosophy, he said.

"I respect that. I don't in any way criticize it," McCain said, laughing.

*** UPDATE *** NBC's Lauren Appelbaum and Ashley Codianni add, McCain also said he plans to travel to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan "soon." "Of course we know we know we face significant challenges in Afghanistan," McCain said, "which I think almost all of us are in agreement, will require increased U.S. presence, NATO participation...."

McCain also reaffirmed his support for the issue that nearly sunk his presidential campaign -- comprehensive immigration reform.

"Running for re-election has never been a concern of mine as far as issues like that are concerned," McCain said. "I intend to discuss that with the President-elect. It's pretty clear that our agenda, that all Americans are, is our economy. But I still am committed to comprehensive immigration reform. ... Right now, the president's agenda is something that we have to, Republicans and Democrats alike, adhere to. And it's very clear that the state of our economy will be the number one agenda item."

On the Republican Party's future, McCain stressed fiscal conservatism, specifically cutting spending and reducing earmarks -- both of which were campaign platforms.

"Republicans have to show the American people that we have solutions to the economic challenges that face this nation, that are incredibly large, as we all know," he said.

When asked, the 72-year-old McCain ruled out a future presidential run -- with a laugh.

"I think right now my focus is on running re-election for the United States senate," he said. "I do not envision a scenario that would entail that."