The Times West Virginian

Headline News

July 28, 2013

Obama and McCain: Newest odd couple

WASHINGTON — There was no conciliatory phone call, no heart-to-heart talk to soothe the tensions. No one knows exactly when President Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain went from bitter rivals in the 2008 presidential campaign and foes over health care and national security to bipartisan partners.

Yet in recent months, an alignment on high-profile domestic issues — not to mention an eye on their respective legacies — has transformed Obama and McCain into Washington’s most unexpected odd couple. The Arizona senator is a regular visitor to the West Wing and in near-daily contact with senior White House officials.

McCain, in an Associated Press interview, said that he and Obama “trust each other.” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, among the Obama advisers who speak regularly with McCain, praised the lawmaker as a “refreshing” partner who “welcomes a debate and welcomes action.”

Like any good business arrangement in the nation’s capital, the secret to the new Obama-McCain alliance ultimately comes down to this: Both sides believe that working together is mutually beneficial and carries little political risk.

For Obama, the senator has become a rare Republican backer of important elements on the president’s second term agenda, including immigration overhaul, stricter background checks for gun buyers, and perhaps a fall budget deal.

In return, McCain has secured increased access to the White House and an opportunity to redeem his reputation as a Capitol Hill “maverick.” That image was tainted when McCain tacked to the right during his failed 2008 presidential run against Obama.

“I’ve told the people of Arizona, I will work with any president if there are ways I can better serve Arizona and the country,” McCain said. “That seems to be an old-fashioned notion but it’s the case.”

Indeed, the level of attention lavished on a functional working relationship between the Democratic president and the Republican senator underscores how rare such partnerships have been during Obama’s tenure.

Lawmakers, including some Democrats, long have chafed at Obama’s distant dealings with Capitol Hill and his supposed lack of understanding about how Congress operates.

It’s unlikely that Obama and McCain’s partnership will lead to a larger detente between the White House and congressional Republicans. While McCain may have sway over some like-minded members of the Senate Republican caucus, he has considerably less influence with his party’s more conservative wing, particularly in the GOP-controlled House.

Still, the White House is hopeful that forging policy breakthroughs with McCain and other Senate Republicans will isolate the House GOP and perhaps persuade them to act.

The first test of that strategy probably will be the White House-backed immigration overhaul. McCain helped write and shepherd the bill through the Senate last month. Its future in the House is deeply uncertain.

The administration also will try to work with McCain ahead of impending budget battles, McDonough said, given that the senator and the White House agree there is a negative impact from across-the-board federal budget cuts, particularly on the military and defense industry.

McDonough said it’s not just a shared view on policy that has made McCain an attractive partner to Obama on these and other issues. It’s their mutual disdain for Washington meetings that never move beyond the standard talking points.

“Part of what’s great to work with him is his impatience with that,” McDonough said. “You can kind of get into the meat of the matter very quickly”

Obama and McCain were never close during the president’s brief tenure in the Senate. While McCain is a creature of Capitol Hill, Obama largely saw Congress as a stepping stone to bigger things. The relationship deteriorated during frequent clashes in the 2008 presidential campaign, and it often appeared during Obama’s first term like it would never recover.

In 2010, the two sparred during a televised negotiating session on health care. McCain chastised Obama for brokering deals behind closed doors, to which the president snapped, “We’re not campaigning anymore. The election is over.”

McCain replied: “I’m reminded of that every day.”

White House advisers still bristle over McCain’s accusations that the administration covered up details of last year’s deadly attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, as well as his relentless criticism of former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s role in that alleged effort.

McCain’s criticism contributed to Rice’s decision to withdraw from consideration as Obama’s secretary of state. She now serves as White House national security adviser, a post that does not require Senate confirmation.

McDonough acknowledged that McCain’s role in keeping the Benghazi controversy alive has been a source of frustration. But he credited the senator with largely shelving his criticism of Rice once she joined the White House staff.

“The way he’s worked with her since she became national security adviser speaks to his interest in making sure that even where we disagree, we’re finding a way to work together when we can,” McDonough said. “I know the president has appreciated that.”

McCain said his stronger ties with the president on domestic issues won’t keep him from challenging the president on national security issues, including Syria, where McCain backs a more aggressive U.S. response than does the administration. But he said there’s a way to strike an appropriate balance.

“He is the president of the United States,” McCain said. “You can strongly disagree and still be respectful.”

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Ukraine, Russia trade blame for shootout

    Within hours of an Easter morning shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming militant Ukrainian nationalists and Russian state television stations aired pictures of supposed proof of their involvement in the attack that left at least three people dead.

    April 20, 2014

  • Governor: Closing Boston amid bomber hunt ‘tough’

    Several days after the Boston Marathon bombing, Gov. Deval Patrick received a call in the pre-dawn hours from a top aide telling him that police officers outside the city had just engaged in a ferocious gun battle with the two men suspected of setting the bombs and that one was dead and the other had fled.

    April 20, 2014

  • Everest avalanche reminder of risks Sherpas face

    The rescuers moved quickly, just minutes after the first block of ice tore loose from Mount Everest and started an avalanche that roared down the mountain, ripping through teams of guides hauling gear.
    But they couldn’t get there quickly enough.

    April 20, 2014

  • Colorado deaths stoke worries about pot edibles

    A college student eats more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumps to his death from a hotel balcony. A husband with no history of violence is accused of shooting his wife in the head, possibly after eating pot-infused candy.

    April 19, 2014

  • Everest avalanche kills at least 12

    An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving four missing in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak. Several more were injured.

    April 19, 2014

  • Diplomacy doesn’t move insurgents in Ukraine

    Pro-Russian insurgents defiantly refused Friday to surrender their weapons or give up government buildings in eastern Ukraine, despite a diplomatic accord reached in Geneva and overtures from the government in Kiev.

    April 19, 2014

  • Clinton to Obama: Many parallels

    Thousands of pages of documents from President Bill Clinton’s White House affirm a longtime adage: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
    As Clinton prepared for an August 1994 news conference in which he hoped to build public support for his struggling — and ultimately unsuccessful — health care overhaul, he told his advisers: “A lot of them want to know they can keep their own plan if they like it.”

    April 19, 2014

  • Obama voices skepticism on Russia in Ukraine

    President Barack Obama conveyed skepticism Thursday about Russian promises to de-escalate a volatile situation in Ukraine, and said the United State and its allies are ready to impose fresh sanctions if Moscow doesn’t make good on its commitments.

    April 18, 2014

  • President defending health-care law good for some Democrats

    President Barack Obama’s full-throated defense of his health-care overhaul seems perfectly timed for Democrats who want their party to embrace the law more enthusiastically.
    At a White House news conference Thursday, Obama noted that health insurance enrollments under the new law are higher than expected, and costs are lower.

    April 18, 2014

  • Deal reached on calming Ukraine tensions — for now

    In a surprise accord, Ukraine and Russia agreed Thursday on tentative steps to halt violence and calm tensions along their shared border after more than a month of Cold War-style military posturing triggered by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

    April 18, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads