GOP Sen. John McCain is positioning himself to be one of President Barack Obama’s strongest supporters, effectively giving Democrats the votes they need to override any GOP attempt to block the new administration’s legislative agenda.
Obama heaped warm praise on his GOP rival during a dinner held in McCain’s honor the day before the inauguration, calling him a hero.
Insiders duly noted McCain was granted a prime spot on the dais at the inauguration, sandwiched in a seat between White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The day after the inauguration, Obama and McCain spoke again at the National Prayer breakfast.
It was all part of Obama’s ongoing charm offensive to woo those on the other side of the aisle. The effort was apparently well received by the maverick senator from Arizona, who throughout his career has shown a proclivity for teaming up with Democrats on legislation.
Immediately following the news that Obama was shutting down the Guantanamo prison camp, McCain joined with Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., to praise Obama’s decision.
“We support President Obama’s decision to close the prison at Guantanamo, reaffirm America’s adherence to the Geneva Conventions, and begin a process that will, we hope, lead to the resolution of all cases of Guantanamo detainees,” they said in a joint statement.
While the two senators were not unequivocal in their endorsement – they pointed out that other issues related to interrogations and detainees remain to be resolved – the endorsement set pundits’ keyboards aflutter nonetheless.
“The move suggests that McCain views himself as a bridge between the Democratic president and Republicans in Congress and a major player in the expected fights over passage of Obama's agenda,” wrote the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza.
Longtime McCain political adviser John Weaver indicated Republicans should get used to the idea of a McCain-Obama nexus – and took a swipe at conservatives in the process.
"When there is agreement between the two, President Obama will have no greater ally," Weaver told Cillizza. "The John McCain of today is the John McCain who could have made the [presidential] race closer. The country is in a mood to get things accomplished and problems solved and John has clearly embraced that spirit."
There have been signs of late that McCain has returned to the maverick inclinations that have long antagonized some conservatives. During the hearings to confirm Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, McCain chided his fellow Republicans for dragging things out.
"I remind all my colleagues: We had an election. I think the message the American people are sending us now is they want us to work together, and get to work," he lectured.
McCain’s focus on getting along with the new powers that be in Washington will make life much more difficult for Senate Republicans, who are barely clinging to the 41 votes they need to stave off a Democratic override of a GOP filibuster. It takes three-fifths of the Senate, or 60 votes, to shut down debate and bring a bill to a vote.
Sen. GOP leader John Cornyn was asked if he has any idea how far McCain might go in snubbing his fellow Republicans.
Cornyn told the Post: "In a word, no. I have no sense. I'm ready for whatever happens."
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