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The Worst That Could Happen


Until I found this column by the Washington Post’s David Broder, I was going to write a post talking about how Sen. John McCain is the new – de facto – Senate Majority Leader.
He engineered the “compromise” on the judicial filibuster and he’s been trying to cut a deal with the White House and Senate Democrats on John Bolton’s nomination to be ambassador to the U.N. When titular Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist stumbled – twice! — McCain was doing the heavy lifting to get a deal done. That’s significant, not just because McCain is clearly aiming for a presidential run against Frist but because he is managaing to attract the support of seasoned and experienced Senators on both sides of the aisle.
There is, however, something else brewing that’s almost as interesting as McCain’s out-of-the-closet presidential ambitions. In fact, this particular fight might serve as the platform on which McCain builds his presidential campaign. Increasingly, Senate Republicans are willing to take on the conservative wing of their party. McCain is smartly leading that fight. And it promises to be a doozie because it means that Republicans like McCain will be taking on the lame duck Bush administration.

In his 2000 presidential bid McCain stared down the far right as Connie Bruck details in her New Yorker profile of McCain. They don’t like him any more than he likes them. But you know what? That’s probably just fine with all those folks who are telling pollsters that they’re a little wary of the Congress’ decision to intervene in the Terry Schiavo case. Or the folks who are just plain-old disgusted by government – and they usually mean “legislative” – inaction. Little things about McCain – his refusing Secret Service protection which famously keeps presidential candidates locked down and away from “real” people when they campaign, his wacky 90-something year old mother who gets speeding tickets — are more sure touches that make folks smile in, well, a kind of solidarity with the scared, straight-talking Senator.
McCain’s attempts to get stuff done in the Senate is an extension of these sentiments. Which puts the Senator from Arizona in an interesting, even powerful position. And it’s power that may well grow in the next year.
McCain’s racked up the favor bank points with Democrats in the Senate – hey, why do you really think he cut the deal on filibusters? – so he may well start calling in some chits. On what? The immigration reform bill he’s sponsored with Sen. Ted Kennedy. Conservatives hate immigration reform; they’d just as soon shut the gates. Democrats don’t like it either; they think it’s taking jobs from low-wage earners or not giving enough rights and recognition to immigrants. But pretty much everyone agrees the current situation is a rotten stinking mess.
McCain’s the right man for this job since he comes from a border state and is a hawk – meaning he won’t slack on national security issues now part and parcel of any talk about managing the nation’s borders. And he’s got the political courage to stare down the wack-jobs on both sides of the issue. Not to mention the balls to tell the White House what to do.
McCain’s not the only guy to watch in this little battle for a more moderate Republican Party, however. Take a hard look at Sen. Arlen Specter. And listen to what he had to say on ABC’s This Week on Sunday to Sen. Sam Brownbeck, an opponent of the stem cell legislation Specter says he has enough votes to pass (link via John Aravosis).

BROWNBACK: George [Stephanopoulos] and Arlen, when did each of your lives begin? When did your life biologically start? And we shouldn’t be researching on that life at any time during its continuum unless we have your consent. When did your life start?
SPECTER: Well Sam, I’m a lot more concerned at this point about when my life is gonna end.

Specter, punished by social conservatives for saying that the next Supreme Court nominee shouldn’t necessarily be a pro-life judge, is clearly on the warpath. Facing a terminal illness, mocked by his party and never a guy with a warm and cozy approach to life, Specter’s got little to lose at this point. And he knows it. He’s going to have a smart, equally fearless friend in McCain because once you’ve spent five years in a POW camp there isn’t a whole lot worse that can happen to you.
Like McCain, Specter’s a practiced Senate insider who’s got his share of enemies, critics and detractors. Like McCain, he’s not an easy man to like. But he’s also a very sick man. And he’s beginning to sound like an angry one, too.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 6:42 PM | Permalink

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