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Whither McCain?


Where has Sen. John McCain been in the auto bailout talks? Photo by Laura Segall/Getty Images

During the presidential campaign, John McCain talked relentlessly about his involvement in efforts to pass major pieces of bipartisan legislation in the Senate -- from campaign finance reform to comprehensive immigration reform.

Seeking to "walk the walk," McCain even suspended his campaign for a day in September to return to Washington to step into the tense negotiations over a massive $700 billion financial bailout bill -- a move that badly backfired as the measure was defeated

The message from McCain during the course of the campaign was simple: I have the know-how and willingness to broker deals on major priorities of the American public. (The companion argument made by the McCain forces was that Barack Obama, for all his talk about bipartisanship and changing politics, had no record of reaching across the aisle to get things done during his brief time in the Senate.)

And so, given that recent history, it is somewhat surprising that McCain has been invisible this week as the Senate considered and then rejected a $15 billion bailout of the U.S. auto industry. (The measure passed the House on a largely party line vote earlier in the week.) The key player for Republicans -- aside from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) -- was not McCain but Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, a relatively junior member who was elected to the chamber in 2006.

On its face, the impasse -- centered on the extent and speed with which the automakers changed their their business practices in return for the bailout money -- seems tailor-made for McCain's "man in the arena" approach.


The high-stakes negotations also offered an early chance for the Arizona senator to reassert himself as a power player in the Senate after Obama's decisive presidential victory. (McCain has already announced his intention to run for reelection in 2010 and to re-start his political action committee -- both moves that, on their face, suggest he has no intention of becoming a Senate back-bencher following his failed national bid.)

Conversations with a variety of Republican strategists suggest two main reasons for his non-role in the auto bailout talks.

The explanation kindest to McCain is that he has been away from the Senate for the better part of the last two years and is wary of inserting himself into the middle of the debate when others have been thinking about and working on the issue for months or years.

While there is almost certainly a re-adjustment period for McCain after the attention and pressures of his presidential campaign, it's hard to see a man who repeatedly declared that he would never win the "Miss Congeniality" award in the Senate afraid to step on a few toes when it comes to the auto bailout. It's possible that McCain -- fighter pilot, self-proclaimed maverick -- has fundamentally rethought his legislative approach, but we tend to doubt it.

The other possible explanation for McCain's absence from the front lines of the auto bailout talks is that he remains scalded from his unsuccessful attempt to close the deal earlier this fall on the broader bailout of Wall Street.

At the time, McCain's senior advisers believed he was caught in a trap. Either stay out of the ongoing (and collapsing negotiations) and run the risk of being criticized for being all talk and no action by Obama and other Democrats or return to Washington and take a chance that if a deal did not come together he would be seen as ineffectual.

McCain chose the latter option and watched his campaign's worst nightmare come true. McCain's campaign suspension was quickly perceived by voters as nothing more than a political gambit, and he struggled mightily in the ensuing weeks of the campaign to recover his footing on the economy.

Given that recent history, it's not hard to see why McCain might be slightly gun-shy about wading into another legislative morass that has no simple solution and that voters are decidedly divided over.

"Stepping in to fix a deal on the Hill wasn't the most successful thing he did in the last few months," said one Republican consultant granted anonymity to speak candidly about McCain's motivations.

McCain is famously resistant to psychoanalysis and so his real reasons for staying in the background of the auto bailout negotiations may remain a mystery. But, as McCain begins to re-orient himself to the Senate, it will be interesting to watch what sorts of issues (healthcare? energy?) he decides to weigh in on and how he goes about it.

Is the man in the arena gone? Or just on a temporary hiatus?

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 12, 2008; 1:40 PM ET
Categories:  Republican Party  
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Comments

I love the fact that we are still talking about McCain, almost as much as Obama. Whether you like him or not, he is a powerhouse who will remain someone that I and others will forever look up to and believe to tbe "the one" man in history who should have been elected President and wasn't, or at least in my hopeful mind, not yet that is. I need to look up to a man whom I call Mr. President, and with Obama, are you kidding me? He is the last person who should have gotten the job out of the bunch. His unsavory relationships and lackluster experience does nothing for me and 56 million other voters out there. As my parents always told me "Life isn't always Fair".
I HOPE MCCAIN RUNS FOR PRESIDENT IN 2012!

Posted by: karen31 | December 17, 2008 5:04 PM | Report abuse

As Governor Patterson has said "Obviously people are interested and would like to come in and present their case, and if they ask for that time I'll grant it to them."

O.K. Governor, I would like to meet with you this weeek or next, please let me know what time, Also do you want to meet in Albany or in the NYC? I will only need about an hour of your time, but as you have made it clear all are welcome, this should be no problem.

Posted by: WashingtonTimesisBetter | December 15, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

mav⋅er⋅ick   /ˈmævərɪk, ˈmævrɪk/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [mav-er-ik, mav-rik] Show IPA Pronunciation

–noun
1. Southwestern U.S. an unbranded calf, cow, or steer, esp. an unbranded calf that is separated from its mother.

2. a lone dissenter, as an intellectual, an artist, or a politician, who takes an independent stand apart from his or her associates.

3. (initial capital letter) an electro-optically guided U.S. air-to-ground tactical missile for destroying tanks and other hardened targets at ranges up to 15 mi. (24 km).

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/maverick


McCain is a maverick. How can a maverick bring his side to the table? McCain is the "lone dissenter" which means his fellow Republican senate prisoners don't much care for him.

Posted by: info4 | December 14, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

You can add all that up if you like but we really dodged a bullet not having Mccain as the pres, elect right now. That do nothing piece of garbage, as evidenced by the last few weeks, would have been little more then a puppet for every corrupt faction of the republican party.

Check out todays NY Times story on the lies we were being told about Iraq and still are.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/14/world/middleeast/14reconstruct.html?hp=&pagewanted=all

There is no a thing we have been told about Iraq before the war and since we can believe. Once Bush is gone the real truth will come out and it is far worse then we all imagine. You should be waking up in a cold sweat with the thought of Mccain possibly taking office in a few weeks.

Like it or not and with all things being equal we are all very lucky, you included. If Mccain had won, I shudder to think of what we could be facing with that weak, stupid, fumbling old puppet of a man as president. I just got s chill just thinking about it.

You can spew your stupidity and lies all you want, we are lucky to not have Mccain no matter how you look at it.

============
I seriously do not understand the point of this section - McCain is the bad guy now while it is OK that Obama, who has all the political capital, sits on the sidelines?


Obama should be the one in the mix - the one showing leadership.


Sorry but Obama QUIT the Senate - he could have stayed involved until January - what is your point??

Obama was NEVER a real player in the Senate - and the prospect of actually having to do something in the next few months frightened him.


Obama was elected by the people of Illinois to be a Senator exactly NOW when they need him - Instead Obama quit and the seat is vacant -


Actually not much difference from when Obama was on his book tour, or thinking about running for President, or out at rallies running for President.


Obama has NEVER really been a Senator at all.


No economic experience, no business experience, no foreign policy experience, no defense experience WHAT WERE YOU THINKING????

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Posted by: 37thandORules | December 14, 2008 7:35 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: popasmoke | December 14, 2008 8:14 AM | Report abuse

I seriously do not understand the point of this section - McCain is the bad guy now while it is OK that Obama, who has all the political capital, sits on the sidelines?


Obama should be the one in the mix - the one showing leadership.


Sorry but Obama QUIT the Senate - he could have stayed involved until January - what is your point??

Obama was NEVER a real player in the Senate - and the prospect of actually having to do something in the next few months frightened him.


Obama was elected by the people of Illinois to be a Senator exactly NOW when they need him - Instead Obama quit and the seat is vacant -


Actually not much difference from when Obama was on his book tour, or thinking about running for President, or out at rallies running for President.


Obama has NEVER really been a Senator at all.


No economic experience, no business experience, no foreign policy experience, no defense experience WHAT WERE YOU THINKING????

.
,

,


,

Posted by: 37thandORules | December 14, 2008 7:35 AM | Report abuse

newbeeboy

WHAT ARE YOU talking about ? McCain ran in 2000 and was smeared by Bush.


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Posted by: 37thandORules | December 14, 2008 7:30 AM | Report abuse

Even those of us who voted for McCain were never fooled by his bipartisan rhetoric and he was never a Pres. candidate in the past - for a reason.

He's a good man, but he was never any political ball of fire. I thought the stupid 'maverick' crap actually worked against him -- not even the most vocal McCain supporters believed it was a valid reason to switch support to him.

Posted by: newbeeboy | December 13, 2008 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Another good piece of meat for us politico junkies, Chris. But in the interest of full disclosure would you please update the Post's bio on McSwitch? He was a bomber pilot, not a fighter pilot. Its a matter of fact and perpective which washes over into his political career. McCain prefered to fight the enemy at 30,000 feet not face to face.

Posted by: dave_sheehan641 | December 13, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Bank of America and Mr. Higgins missing $millions, It can happen to you, my fellow Americans


More info: http://mrhigginsbank.blogspot.com/

Posted by: srmaxhiggins | December 13, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Is the man in the arena gone? Or just on a temporary hiatus?

I think he knowns the arena is not a happy one, when you use hatred and fear to mold the campaign message!

He would be smart to take some time off from that. The last thing we need is some new rediculous rhetoric from McCain!

Posted by: vicbennettnet | December 13, 2008 5:56 AM | Report abuse

I guess I would be willing to cut John some slack here. He needs time to plan on how to deal with scumbags like Joe the Plumber and Youbetcha Sara Palin. Both of whom have paid him back for the ultimate favor he did them by rescuing them from obscurity, by stabbing him in the back. Scumbags is a nice thing to call these two but this is a family paper.

Posted by: Opa2 | December 13, 2008 1:20 AM | Report abuse

JM wasn't a major "power broker" for the $700 billion bailout, so why would he be one for this issue? The $700 billion bail-out happened in spite of him, not because of him. As he said himself on the campaign trail, he's not all that knowledgeable about issues related to the economy.

Posted by: PeixeGato1 | December 12, 2008 11:23 PM | Report abuse

Given the mess the Senate Republicans have made of the bailout keeping a low profile is smart. The big problem is if the Auto Bailout fails the entire amount of the underfunded pensions and retiree health care will be picked up by the Federal Government. It is correct to include those cost in labor cost for accounting purposes but totally wrong to use those cost in decision making. $16 per hour of the difference in labor cost is unavoidable cost of these so called legacy cost. Those cost are fixed and will be picked up by treasury if the auto companies fail. McCain is smart to stay away from this explosive issue. I have great confidence in Obama to communicate this issue to the American people and the Republicans will come out losers. This does not even take in account the $19 billion we will lose in payroll tax collections next year if we lose another 2 million jobs.

Posted by: bradcpa | December 12, 2008 7:46 PM | Report abuse

He probably doesn't want to come out and say: let them fail if the UAW continues to own the Big 3 and force wage and benefits levels that will ensure these companies can't compete and will go down next year even if we give them $$$ this year.

Posted by: AsperGirl | December 12, 2008 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Chris- This is clear evidence that McCain would not have been a very good President (I am being kind). He does continue to perform well on David Letterman however.

It is a shame that Sen. Corker laid the blame on the UAW and it hard working members asking for a date certain agreement on wages. The last time a date certain was asked for was on Iraq and Corker was against that.

Have a a great weekend.

Posted by: mkaplan1220 | December 12, 2008 7:18 PM | Report abuse

JRM2 writes
"How about he give the middle-class a break?, you know "fight for America, we make history, blah, blah, blah"
Isn't that what he's being paid to do?, represent the American people?"

Hmm. You think that McC's Presidential platform was geared toward giving the middle-class a break? Guess I was watching a different channel.

Besides, McC is paid to represent the interests of Arizonans, not Americans in general or Michiganders in particular. Seeing as how he missed 64% of the votes in the last Congress, Arizonans should be quite unhappy with their representation by McC.

Posted by: mnteng | December 12, 2008 6:27 PM | Report abuse

"it is somewhat surprising that McCain has been invisible this week as the Senate considered and then rejected a $15 billion bailout of the U.S. auto industry."

Are you suggesting it was all a ruse? That he's not the 'get 'er done' deal maker?

As for taking a break after a grueling campaign? He had a 4 month break while Obama and Hilary were slugging it out. Obama's been busting it the whole time and hasn't stopped for a second. He's way ahead of previous P-elects in getting his transition and cabinet going.

America made the correct choice this time.

Posted by: thebobbob | December 12, 2008 5:46 PM | Report abuse

The issue isn't one of McCain's 'pet' issues, so he's not front & center as a dealmaker. While politicians & particularly presidential candidates, claim to be experts on everything, the reality is that they only expend energy where their interests lie. McCain likely has little interest in the Big Three.

Posted by: bsimon1 | December 12, 2008 5:08 PM | Report abuse

The Senate is full of specialists. Some, like my own state's Richard Lugar, are considered foreign policy wonks. Others, like Barney Franks, Christopher Dodd and Charles Rangel, are self-styled experts on finance--that is, if receiving payola for suppression of regulatory reform and garnering special favors qualifies as expertise. John McCain is known to shy away from economic issues and legislation, and by his own admission, considers it his weakest subject. To be honest, I'm still feeling bitter about his sell-out of Sarah Palin when she came under attack by his own staff, so maybe I'm being over-kind to compensate. I could've just written: 'McCain is clueless about the economy', and have done with it.

Posted by: troyriser1 | December 12, 2008 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Mccain is little more then a phony as many of us pointed out throughout the campaign. He managed to make it on Letterman last night but nothing that has to do with the well being of the country seems the be on his schedule. The man is a complete piece of crap and the people who voted for him are lucky they were not in the majority. They lucked out by losing.

Posted by: popasmoke | December 12, 2008 3:53 PM | Report abuse

My guess is that he's sitting with his feet up, having a well-deserved beer and laughing at the sight of this bumbling neophyte Obama taking continual collateral damage from his innumerable sleazy Chicago connections.

You know, now that the media has decided to actually scrutinize the guy they led the cheerleading for.

Posted by: zippyspeed | December 12, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

McRunt back to being McRunt. What's the point... other than being out runted by Corker.

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld | December 12, 2008 3:30 PM | Report abuse

McCain's disappearance regarding GOP opposition to the bailout shows that he is hardly a power broker among his party colleagues. McCain is yesterday for the GOP.

http://www.political-buzz.com/

Posted by: parkerfl1 | December 12, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse

"Give the man a break"
mnteng
----
How about he give the middle-class a break?, you know "fight for America, we make history, blah, blah, blah"
Isn't that what he's being paid to do?, represent the American people?

Posted by: JRM2 | December 12, 2008 2:51 PM | Report abuse

With so much going on all at the same time in the government and political arena which affects the American public...it's hard to believe that the excuse for this "fringes" article is a slow news day.
Media personnel are getting laid off by the droves because of the post-election outfall of reasonable advertising revenue...so why not improve your job security, Chris, by writing something pertinent (even close would do) to the issues at hand. A piece, perhaps, in which would be interested ... OR one that might be informative?

Posted by: gail4food | December 12, 2008 2:49 PM | Report abuse

JM knows there is no good answer, here. You've got a bunch of inept auto industry folks with their hands out, and a public that believes the only two options are bailout or complete shutdown.

You got to know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em. GM just decided to close 20 plants right before Christmas. Next week, they'll threaten to kill a kitten.

Meanwhile, John is sitting in the sun in Arizona sipping a cool Budweiser.

Posted by: dickcarl | December 12, 2008 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Give the man a break. He just came off a two year Presidential campaign, followed by what had to be a very disappointing loss in the general election. He'll re-orient himself in time for the new Congress, once he's had time to find his center again.

Plus, he had to do another appearance on Letterman. He probably didn't want to get Dave all riled up again by not showing up because of another bailout vote.

Posted by: mnteng | December 12, 2008 1:51 PM | Report abuse

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