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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

July 29 (Bloomberg) — Washington being Washington, the hottest relationship in town doesn’t revolve around sex or even the next presidential election: it’s the political courtship of old antagonists, Barack Obama and John McCain.

Political relationships, especially those involving the president, are the sustenance of the American capital. Sometimes they are poisonous: President Lyndon Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy, as captured in the latest volume of Robert Caro’s biography of LBJ. At other times, they are lopsided, as when Bill Clinton dominated Newt Gingrich under the guise of working together. Every now and then, there are adversarial/symbiotic relationships that, on balance, get things done: Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill in the 1980s, for example.

The association between Obama and McCain is different. But it may be Washington’s most important since Reagan and O’Neill.

McCain, 76, whose political resiliency is rivaled only by such luminaries as Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, is the most pivotal figure in the Senate today. He often is more central than the party leaders, Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, or Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, or the self-styled new power broker, the New York Democrat Chuck Schumer.

When McCain is with the president — on immigration and in brokering the recent deal to secure Senate approval of stalled Obama nominees — they usually can trump the political right. When he’s against him — sabotaging Obama’s plan last year to nominate Susan Rice as secretary of state — the White House rarely prevails.

Their previous strains predated 2008, when they vied for the presidency. Obama saw his Republican rival as an embittered, compromised maverick who treated him as an undeserving upstart. That was close to the mark. After he lost that election, McCain saw Obama as naïve, aloof and surrounded by too many sycophants.

In 2011, there was a move to détente after Arizona representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot. That, however, was “a false start,” McCain recalled in an interview last week.

This time, political convenience broke the ice. A re-elected president soon realized that without the support of a small core of Senate Republicans, any agenda was doomed. McCain, who moved right to fend off a Tea Party primary challenge in 2010, was itching to reclaim his maverick persona and wage a two-pronged battle: against the isolationists and political right of his own party and against the national-security left wing in the Democratic camp.

Since the January inauguration, Obama and McCain have met a dozen times. In half of those occasions, they were either alone or with only a few other principals. Although the discussions were usually about immigration policy, they invariably ranged more broadly.

There are huge tests ahead, especially the budget/debt ceiling/sequestration battles this autumn. McCain, the defense hawk, despises the across-the-board cuts to defense and discretionary domestic spending required under sequestration and wants to help forge a compromise replacement involving more taxes and cuts in entitlements.

The odds are against that happening; most House Republicans are more eager for an economy-threatening standoff than for an accord. The only slim hope is a deal, led by the White House and a small group of McCainites.

McCain also wants to help Obama fulfill his promise to close the detainee camp for terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He says political conditions are much different from four years ago, when there was a similar effort.

“The difference between 2009 and 2013 is the administration now has a plan,” he says.

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Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • sigrid28

    At least you can say of John McCain that he loves America and he cares about other Americans–something you would not say about many other prominent Republicans.

    John Boehner loves his position and cigarettes. Mitch McConnell loves his position and hating Barack Obama. Paul Ryan loves Ayn Rand. Scott Walker loves the Koch brothers. Darrell Issa loves bullying other people. Steve King loves hearing himself talk. Louie Gohmert loves animals (I think). Rick Perry loves himself, more than anything or anyone. Mitch Romney loves multimillionaires. Marco Rubio loves attention. Chris Christie loves New Jersey. Donald Trump loves celebrity. You finish the list.

    • Jominith

      Great comment, very well put; I have one addition/correction: Chris Christie does not love New Jersey; he only loves himself first and whatever else furthers his future second, including “New Jersey”. When he welcomed and praised the president for his help with Sandy he was furthering his re-election chances. Chris Christie loves Chris Christie.

      • sigrid28

        I stand corrected. It was too good to be true.

  • idamag

    Every once in a while McCain’s decency shines through. There are many who do not even have that decency to shine through.

  • charleo1

    Idamag said it perfectly. Sometimes McCain’s decency shines through. I myself
    have at various times, admired him, cringed at his bomb Iran, questioned his
    integrity, and sanity. And cheered when he called the arrogant know nothing
    T-Party members, hobbits. I’ve been angered by his willingness to be wholly
    unfair, and dishonest, about Susan Rice. A smart, dedicated, and capable public
    servant, who’s reputation he dragged through the mud for no other purpose, than
    pure politics. Like he’s never come on a Sunday news program, and parroted the
    the Party line on an issue. But, if McCain is going to help my President help my
    Country avoid the more disastrous policies, and agendas, until we can pry some
    of the traitors, and America haters out of their respective offices in Congress.
    I could be persuaded to be a McCain fan. We’ll see I guess which McCain shows

  • Dominick Vila

    I have no idea how sincere they are when they project a semblance of civility and cooperation between them, but Sen. McCain’s courage on issues such as immigration reform, deserves the respect of everyone. He is very much aware that his position on that issues undermines his chances of re-election in his home state next time he runs, and he decided to do the right thing regardless of repercussions. That’s what our elected officials are supposed to do, and seldom do.

    • TZToronto

      You may be correct, but any Republican candidate will eventually shoot himself (definitely not herself) in the foot by saying something in front of a friendly audience that discloses his kowtowing to the far, far right.

  • Catskinner

    McCain has completely lost it. I don’t think even he knows what he’s doing.

  • jnsgraphic

    Another REPUBLICRAT [like Liberman] he is known for ‘flipflopping’… McCain is one of the ‘few’ respectable dinosaur Republicans left that plays both sides of the fence in order to keep his seat; a Republican in name only, and not your typical Republican puppet …it’s time for him to hand in his resignation too!.

  • FT66

    Am a bit skeptical to give McCain the full respect he should deserve. The man keeps on changing like a chameleon every now and then. If he says something which makes sense today, wait for a week or so, he will come up with something which is quite different from what he said before. You can’t earn the credit of being a person of wisdom if you are not be consistent on what you say and stick to it. McCain can try now to show he is sensible person especially on Immigration Reform issues, BUT what was he thinking when he brought the clueless woman to lead the nation incase something goes wrong with him. That wasn’t maverick. That was putting himself first and the country second. Unless he comes forward and admit that he made a blunder, to me McCain will ever remain the same regardless what nice things he does once in a while.

  • Mark Forsyth

    Are we seeing the many faces of McCain? O.K.,I admit that some years ago I thought McCain might be one of the rare “decent” republicans.Since then I have had occasion to get away from that idea.I think Obama would be wise to use all the tools in his box and form whatever reasonable collaborations that may be possible.I would like to think that McCain still has some of those qualities that engendered my original perspective of him,but again I admit to looking at all things republican with a jaundiced eye.
    I will wait and watch for the evidence of action and hope that those actions may be productive.

  • bcarreiro

    god bless u, for u can make the difference in the republican party (knowing that u were a p.o.w) that in itself derserves the respect. we the people dont need to be prisoners of congress anymore………….i hope and pray you can make the changes and this is not for political gain. sir yes sir we the people deserve the respect as well for we are the world we are one united!!!

  • commserver

    Here is a real odd couple. At least they are willing to work together, which is more than others in GOP are willing to do.