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McCain, Cornyn Engage in Heated Exchange

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) hasn't spent much time in the Capitol this year as he seeks the GOP presidential nomination. But one of his rare appearances this week provided a pretty salty exchange with a fellow Republican.

During a meeting Thursday on immigration legislation, McCain and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) got into a shouting match when Cornyn started voicing concerns about the number of judicial appeals that illegal immigrants could receive, according to multiple sources -- both Democrats and Republicans -- who heard firsthand accounts of the exchange from lawmakers who were in the room.

At a bipartisan gathering in an ornate meeting room just off the Senate floor, McCain complained that Cornyn was raising petty objections to a compromise plan being worked out between Senate Republicans and Democrats and the White House. He used a curse word associated with chickens and accused Cornyn of raising the issue just to torpedo a deal.

Things got really heated when Cornyn accused McCain of being too busy campaigning for president to take part in the negotiations, which have gone on for months behind closed doors. "Wait a second here," Cornyn said to McCain. "I've been sitting in here for all of these negotiations and you just parachute in here on the last day. You're out of line."

McCain, a former Navy pilot, then used language more accustomed to sailors (not to mention the current vice president, who made news a few years back after a verbal encounter with Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont).

"[Expletive] you! I know more about this than anyone else in the room," shouted McCain at Cornyn. McCain helped craft a bill in 2006 that passed the Senate but couldn't be compromised with a House bill that was much tougher on illegal immigrants.

Cornyn's office declined to comment on the incident. McCain's camp specifically denied that the senator ever claimed to know more about the immigration issue than other senators, but acknowledged that the two Republicans had quite a disagreement.

"These negotiations can be very tense, and there was a spirited exchange. That's it," said Brian Jones, spokesman for McCain's presidential campaign.

McCain's aides have acknowledged that the senator hasn't been as active in the Senate this year as he's been out campaigning. As Capitol Briefing noted Thursday, McCain hasn't cast a vote in more than five weeks now.

But Jones said McCain's staff has been deeply involved in the immigration talks.

Ultimately, a deal was crafted and, as McCain suspected, Cornyn did not join in on the final agreement.

By early Thursday afternoon, McCain joined nine other senators and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez at a Capitol press conference announcing the deal.

After making a few comments, McCain left the Capitol to head to New York for presidential campaign events. Later that day, McCain missed his 43rd straight vote, this on the $2.9 trillion budget outline.

By Paul Kane  |  May 18, 2007; 7:01 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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