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Congressional Ethics: McCain v. Obama

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) sent a harshly worded letter to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) yesterday scolding him and Democrats for playing politics with the ethics and lobbying reform measures proposed in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

"When you approached me and insisted that despite your leadership's preference to use the issue to gain a political advantage in the 2006 elections, you were personally committed to achieving a result that would reflect credit on the entire Senate and offer the country a better example of political leadership, I concluded your professed concern for the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable," wrote McCain. "Thank you for disabusing of such notions." Ouch.

McCain's rebuke comes just four days after Obama sent a letter informing the Arizona senator that neither he nor his party was interested in joining a bipartisan task force to develop reform legislation that could handily pass the Senate. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted that Democrats believe such legislation needs to hit the floor as quickly as possible -- not go through a lengthy commission process.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," insists McCain. "The timely findings of a bipartisan working group could be very helpful to the committee in formulating legislation that will be reported to the full Senate."

McCain says he is cosponsoring a reform bill with Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) -- a sign of his belief that this is a bipartisan problem that needs a bipartisan solution. "The American people do not see this as just a Republican problem or a Democratic problem," McCain said. "They see it as yet another run-of-the-mill Washington scandal, and they expect it will generate just another round of partisan gamesmanship and posturing."

Obama chose the high road in his own response -- albeit with a hard rhetorical edge. "I confess that I have no idea what has prompted your response," Obama wrote. "The fact that you have now questioned my sincerity and my desire to put aside politics for the public interest is regrettable but does not in any way diminish my deep respect for you nor my willingness to find a bipartisan solution to this problem."

So does it end here? And who comes out of this looking better? It's a fascinating study in political gamesmanship between -- arguably --  the most popular senators in their respective parties.

For McCain, pushing for a bipartisan compromise could bolster his standing among independents and Democrats -- making him all the stronger as a 2008 general election candidate.  For Obama, rebuffing McCain could boost his liberal bona fides and answer critics who accuse him of being unwilling to throw a sharp elbow from time to time.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 7, 2006; 12:37 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Next: Michigan Key to Romney's '08 Primary Strategy


that for all his bluster and "military" experience he's still

on the team.

he cares less for the people of the United States than covering for his buddies of influence....

straight talking, hard hitting, loyalist to the affluent....

corporations run congress, some of them international...

jobs moving overseas

middle class declining, almost disappearing in the blue-collar sector, white-collar-jobs - outsourced to India, Russia, Korea

$30 dollar a month cut to medical payments for seniors to pay for the control of scarce resource being billed as a war by your congress....

yeah, McCain is something, but a citizen of the United States? I don't think so, he's got healthcare while VA benefits have been cut twice since the Iraqi incursion....

special interests? your congress is interested in "getting its' own"


Posted by: actually what is surprising about McCain is | February 10, 2006 12:54 PM | Report abuse

"McCain offered Obama, and you should carefully read his letter because he is accusing Obama of more than just playing politics (lieing to him in private), a chance to participate in a bipartisan solution to what McCain obviously wants to pose as a bipartisan problem (why shouldn't he, it would be a disservice to his party to do otherwise) and the freshman senator said no."

If you read Obama's response carefully, he is accusing McCain for, ah, stretching the truth about what transpired between the two.

Plus it reads quite a bit better than McCain's rather blatantly direct-to-press-release response. I must say McCain surprised me with this.

Posted by: roo | February 7, 2006 11:08 PM | Report abuse

Josh "Obama is a principled liberal Democrat, and he is rightfully so the Democrat reformer to ethics reforms. McCain although admirable is a member of the Republican Psrty who is totally corrupt to their very roots."

This is exactly what I was talking about McCain's political affiliation shouldn't be the issue, the man himself should be.

What was the real differnec between Kerry and Bush and lets drop the party dogma (liberal vs conservative-because these men were neither). Nothing! You have two party centric elitists that have no connection with the bulk of America and clearly both are deplorable from a basic integrity point of view.

Rather then blanket acceptance or rejection based upon party membership, why not determination based upon the tenants of integrity, humility and sympathy.

It is base party loyalty that is allowing the portrayal of Sen H Clinton as a moderate, or the current President as a conservative. They are neither!

To hell with partisanship-let's do the right thing for America. Not the Republican or Democratic party!

Posted by: D~ | February 7, 2006 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Obama is a principled liberal Democrat, and he is rightfully so the Democrat reformer to ethics reforms. McCain although admirable is a member of the Republican Psrty who is totally corrupt to their very roots. They are the problem, and the party outside of that corrupt system needs to be the reform party to put a check on the corrupt party. Barak Obama, and the Democrats are this reform party. Although, I am a moderate I feel this is one area that Republicans have let slip away, and at this time need to take a back seat and let the other party do the reforms.

Posted by: Josh | February 7, 2006 4:40 PM | Report abuse

>>>The man is just not that intelligent or articulate.

BWaaaaaaa hahahaha!

lets compare:

OBAMA: It is that fundamental belief -- it is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work.


OBAMA: It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: "E pluribus unum," out of many, one.

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.

Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.


There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.


The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.


There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.



"We look forward to hearing your vision, so we can more better do our job. That's what I'm telling you." -- Gulfport, Miss., Sept. 20, 2005.

"Listen, I want to thank leaders of the--in the faith--faith-based and community-based community for being here." -- Washington, D.C., Sept. 6, 2005.

"The best place for the facts to be done is by somebody who's spending time investigating it." -- Expressing hope that the probe into how CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity was leaked will yield answers, Washington D.C., July 18, 2005

"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda." -- Greece, N.Y., May 24, 2005

"I repeat, personal accounts do not permanently fix the solution." -- Washington, D.C., March 16, 2005

"It's a time of sorrow and sadness when we lose a loss of life." -- Washington, D.C., Dec. 21, 2004

"Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB/GYN's aren't able to practice their love with women all across the country." -- Sept. 6, 2004, Poplar Bluff, Mo.

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." -- Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

"This has been tough weeks in that country." -- Washington, D.C., April 13, 2004

"My views are one that speaks to freedom." -- Washington, D.C., Jan. 29, 2004

"[T]he illiteracy level of our children are appalling." -- Washington, D.C., Jan. 23, 2004

"Security is the essential roadblock to achieving the road map to peace." -- Washington, D.C., July 25, 2003

and on and on and on...

Hey Rawhide. Dont "misunderestimate" Obama. He very well could be your President someday. Better get used to the idea. :):):)

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | February 7, 2006 4:23 PM | Report abuse


The reality is that Obama is a freshman senator and that he hasn't really *done* anything. The democratic party likes him because he polled well after the DNC (I think) and he happens to sound like an adult and speaks with a reasonable tone that resonates with people across partisan lines, even if his message does not.

Obama has more charisma than McCain no doubt, more than most.

I'm not really sure why McCain's 2008 presidential bid is hurt if Democrat's dominate the agenda on reform. Most people understand that Abrhamoff is a Republican stain, but no one argues that McCain is hurt by this.

McCain offered Obama, and you should carefully read his letter because he is accusing Obama of more than just playing politics (lieing to him in private), a chance to participate in a bipartisan solution to what McCain obviously wants to pose as a bipartisan problem (why shouldn't he, it would be a disservice to his party to do otherwise) and the freshman senator said no.

McCain has overreached for what exactly? An apology from Obama (which he certainly doesn't need)?

Middle America still thinks McCain is America's golden child. As Cilliza has stated before, the question is not whether McCain can win the national election (he would by double digit margins likely) but whether he can win a Republican primary. Any opportunity the Dems give him to play the Right Wing angle will play into his political hands and to their summary loss in a 2008 presidential election.

I think this move was foolish on Obama's part. He could have firmly rooted himself in the political center by accepting this olive branch while also allowing his party to take the partisan (and perhaps justified) approach. This guy is a junior senator who had an opportunity to participate in something the NATION would take note of. He told McCain to screw off and now he can participate in the Democrat solution which could possibly be labeled as partisan screeching.

Hope it works out for him.

Posted by: Will | February 7, 2006 4:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm just glad we can count on Lieberman to step up to help paint the corruption as a bipartisan problem. What would the Democratic Party do without him?

Posted by: KCinDC | February 7, 2006 4:07 PM | Report abuse

It's good to know that Will believes that Barack Obama is as he says, "some freshman Senator nobody who is trying to get his feet wet". I didn't know that Obama was a freshman senator nobody. Wow! McCain is obviously overreaching on this one. He knows that if he doesn't present this scandal as a bi-partisan problem, all his Republican friends he's rooting for will flunk the exams at the polls this November and would put him in a tight spot to win the nomination come 2008. I respect McCain, but I think this one doesn't do well for him perceptively. To rawhide2006, who said: "I find Obama to not be the brightest bulb in the drawer. He is an average speaker and has to constantly look at his notes as he talks.
The man is just not that intelligent or articulate", did you know that same inarticulate Obama is one of the only senators out there who actually puts pen to paper and writes his own speeches, while other politicians let some other ghostwriter write theirs? Plus, every politician reads his/her notes, and it's visible especially when that politician is not using a teleprompter. And what does his speech style have to do with the substance of the argument at hand? Please get your facts straight before you criticize someone else of being too intelligent for you! Sheesh

Posted by: Marve | February 7, 2006 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Who this winds up hurting most will depend solely on how the media reports it. For example this is the third piece I've read on the subject, but the first to post O'Bama's reply or any background on the topic, so McCain has come out smelling like a rose. Also the only reason the American people think this is a bipartisan scandal is because the media keeps saying that it's a bipartisan scandal. Never mind that Abramoff only gave money to Republicans, that his Indian tribe clients reduced their contributions to Democrats and increased them to Republicans after they hired him. Forget about the Republican project only grant access to lobbying firms that hired Republicans. Oh no it's a bipartisan problem because to say anything else might mean you're not balanced.

Posted by: Norm | February 7, 2006 3:54 PM | Report abuse

You do realize that Obama is most definitely NOT part of the Chicago machine. He was a state senator and con law professor representing Hyde Park in Springfield. And when he ran for the Democratic primary he had BOTH Chicago machines running against him - Daley's establishment Democratic machine and Jesse Jackson Jr's black Democratic machine. The consensus insider choice was Dan Hynes. Many black people didn't trust him because he wasn't connected with local community leaders the same way the run-of-the-mill pols were. But it was that outsider-ness that got him the primary victory as Illinois voters were sick and tired of party corruption on both sides.

Posted by: Elrod | February 7, 2006 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunatley it is still politics before fiducuary resposibility. It sickens me that Dems still wanna be Dems 1st and Repubs still wanna be Repubs 1st. We need honest reform, we need men and women of integrity, we need change and compromise. We are in the process of allowing our America to be surrendered to two greedy rich elitist political parties. We are in the process of destroying our childrens future. It is time to put the needs of the country above the needs of the individual political parties.

Posted by: D~ | February 7, 2006 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I find Obama to not be the brightest bulb in the drawer. He is an average speaker and has to constantly look at his notes as he talks.
The man is just not that intelligent or articulate.

Posted by: rawhide2006 | February 7, 2006 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Stephen: ditto. At the beginning of 2005 I definitely wanted him to get the 2008 GOP nomination. Not anymore. That letter really clinches it for me; I don't write far less public e-mails that are that harsh even when I'm swearing at the recipient inside my head. Time to quit Congress, John, while you've still got most of your dignity.

Posted by: lpdrjk | February 7, 2006 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I've always liked McCain and voted for him in the 2000 primary. However, in the past year he's been making some pretty odd public statements, and his letter to Obama reads like it was written by an ego-maniac.

Posted by: Stephen | February 7, 2006 2:55 PM | Report abuse

McCain is my second choice for the GOP nomination. But he does have a temper. Obama joining the bipartisan group would have made his Democratic leaders look petty. He's just a freshman, and I guess he has to pay his dues.

Long Beach, CA is right: we may need an American version of Kadima (the new Israeli party). You get an even amount of R and D moderates to register and create a new party and then build a grass root effort, you would have a new working majority in this country.

Posted by: Albany Pol | February 7, 2006 2:46 PM | Report abuse

This one hurts Obama, no doubt about it. While politically it might be the right move for his party, it does not help his cause to be the one to do it.

Obama is clearly intelligent and well liked within his party, but he hasn't actually *done* anything yet. McCain is probably the most well-liked and accepted politician in America right now. It is advantageous for the Republicans that he would try and shift this from a Republican scandal to a Bipartisan scandal (with a Bipartisan solution). But that doesn't make McCain a lackey. If ever there was a politician who really did car about fighting corruption in government, it's McCain (who has built his entire career out of it) and not some freshman Senator nobody who is trying to get his feet wet.

Posted by: Will | February 7, 2006 2:45 PM | Report abuse

The idea that a 'commission' will be an effective way of solving this problem is laughable. If you are the average voter and believe it will my question is: you be more any more immune to experience? How stupid do you have to be to think that this issue needs to be studied some more? Pass some laws, dammit!

McCain is just stalling to help out Bush and friends. Obama (and other Democrats) obviously wanted to make a difference right here and right now (never mind their true motivations the results would benefit America). The irony is that had McCain decided to put partisanship aside (no, I don't count Lieberman as a Democrat) and gotten behind this some real changes could have been made (overlooking the possibility that Bush would veto them) in time to benefit the Republicans come November.

McCain is partially correct in that this is a Congressional level problem. If Congress would take the time to try to fix it instead of hoping it will fade away (it won't), the voting public would have a more positive view (above, say, slime molds rather than below them) of Congress. Forming a commission is the Congressional equivalent of whistling past the graveyard.

Posted by: lpdrjk | February 7, 2006 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Except for when he's campaigning for Bush, I've never found McCain to be disingenuous, but in this "incident" he is being just that.

These ethical issues are the Republicans'. Congressional Democrats have already issued their ethics reform package, while there has been relative silence from Republicans. It benefits McCain's presidential aspirations to get this behind the party as soon as possible.

When ethical issues were plaguing Democrats in the early 90's, Republicans didn't jump at the chance for bipartisan reform. They published their own reform proposals and campaigned against "corrupt" Democrats. Now the tables have turned, and Republicans have no right to expect Democrats to bail them out of this mess.

Posted by: adam | February 7, 2006 2:09 PM | Report abuse

John McCain, campaign finance reform? Is McCain still talking to Charles Keating? Or, is McCain still pandering to Bush 43 who owns McCain's manhood?

Posted by: Joe Air Pirate | February 7, 2006 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Cindy, honey, don't lie to the nice people. You would never listen to him. It's too late to fake objectivity.

Posted by: Mike 234 | February 7, 2006 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Obama is a joke. He is just a creation of the leftist media and the Washington DC glitterati that fawns all over these celebrity senators. Why is he more special than any other freshman senator? I am tired of listening to Obama pontificate in his holier-than-thou performances about everything that is wrong with America. Obama is nothing more than a product of the corrupt Chicago political machine. He talks a lot about opportunity and this and that and it's the same old ridiculous rhetoric. When he gets serious about improving Chicago's public schools by saying something other than "more funding" then maybe I will pay attention to him

Posted by: Cindy Sheehan | February 7, 2006 1:57 PM | Report abuse

This is the gold standard for Inside-the-Beltway stories.

Posted by: Mike 234 | February 7, 2006 1:57 PM | Report abuse

McCain is about to do to Obama what I did to Don McNeal in Super Bowl XVII..

Someone help him find his jock when it's over.

Posted by: John Riggins | February 7, 2006 1:55 PM | Report abuse

McCain is the only republican Statesman left in the Senate - a close second is Specter.

On the Dem side we have Fiengold, Fienstein and Obama...the rest are weak sauce and just as corrupted by lobbiests as Tom Delay.

Its is too bad the good guys can't get it together on one team to shame the rest... but another "comission" would in fact be cover for the criminals in the Whitehouse and their puppets in congress.

Apparently we need a NEW PARTY...

Vote McCain/Fiengold for President!

Posted by: Long Beach, CA | February 7, 2006 1:47 PM | Report abuse

It must be hard to be John McCain. Despite consistently holding himself to a higher moral standard, he finds himself surrounded in the GOP chambers by those who have used their power to game the system. Hopefully some members of his caucus will find themselves transformed by this overwhelmingly Republican scandal and seek a better path (as McCain himself did after his taste of scandal as one of the Keating Five).
In the meantime, though, it's sad to see McCain through this political temper tantrum because he didn't get his way. Obama understands that the American people are fed up with politics-as-usual in Washington, and demand answers, not more committee meetings. That Obama is not willing to lend his credibility to stoke McCain's ego on this "bipartisan" solution (crafted by "reformers" like Mitch McConnell - a fox guarding the henhouse if ever there was one) does not justify McCain's fit of pique. This time, the Stright Talk Express seems to be leaving without John McCain, and if he hopes to stay relevant as a reformer, I hope he changes his tune and gets on board.

Posted by: Straight Talk Express | February 7, 2006 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Clearly Obama has the upper hand and McCain is flustered and probably bitter that he has to pay the price for party loyalty, as will many others in the GOP.

This situation perfectly illustrates why I, and several other Dem/Libs, posted on here that Obama should steer clear of McCain's offer.

And Chris, thank you for posting an even-handed post on an important and substantive issue. I know that I knock you around like crazy, and mostly for good reason, but this is a great time to point out that when politics and journalism are conducted in FAIRNESS, Liberals, like myself, are not the complaining, whining poo-poo-ers that the Right tries to paint us as in regards to our values and reactions. While I admit that we do react negatively and with extreme partisanship to a substantial amount of political and journalistic rhetoric that stems from the GOP, when the business at hand is conducted in fairness and transparency, the Right will find that we conduct ourselves with workman-like even-handedness. I encourage all those on the Right to take a look at not only the issues of debate in today's society, but the manner by which this Administration has conducted its leadership over the last 5 years. Unfortunately, it has taken explosive scandal, disaster and tragedy to get to this point, but finally we have a glimpse of a realistic form of governance involving the entire, broad spectrum of political views in this, the most diverse and greatest country on Earth. So, thanks again Chris, and I hope to see more of the same from you and the WaPo.

Posted by: FairAndBalancedPerchance? | February 7, 2006 1:02 PM | Report abuse

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