McCain fills vacuum of power, leads the Repub­li­cans

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JOSEPH CURL

With Repub­li­cans just beginning to re­group af­ter the thump­ing they took in the 2008 elec­tions, an un­ex­pected fig­ure has stepped from the shad­ows to lead the party out of the wilder­ness — Sen. John McCain.

Al­though just three months ago, 70 mil­lion Amer­i­cans voted for the Demo­crat — in­clud­ing mil­lions of Repub­li­cans — the 72-year-old Ari­zona se­na­tor has stepped into a lead­er­ship vacuum in his party, tak­ing aim at the pop­u­lar pres­i­dent by ham­mer­ing him on ev­ery­thing from ex­ces­sive fed­eral spending to the war in Afghanista­n.

“You have McCain be­ing McCain,” said for mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich. The prom­i­nent con­ser­va­tive leader said that hav­ing the self-de­scribed mav­er­ick step for­ward early in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was “ab­so­lutely” cru­cial dur­ing the de­bate of the $787 bil­lion Obama stim­u­lus bill.

The straight-talk­ing McCain ap­pears ready to bat­tle his for- mer foe, es­chew­ing con­cil­i­a­tion as he takes his stand on prin­ci­ple. While some in the Se­nate sought com­pro­mise over the stim­u­lus pack­age, Mr. McCain re­fused to join a small group of mod­er­ates from both par­ties. In­stead, he took to the Se­nate floor and be­rated the Demo­cratic plan, push­ing a Repub­li­can pro­posal that called for more tax cuts and less gov­ern­ment spending than Pres­i­dent Obama de­manded.

“I think it would be much harder to or­ga­nize the op­po­si­tion if in fact McCain were just con­sis­tently sid­ing with Obama. I think, in that sense, it lib­er­ated Repub­li­cans to look at the prin­ci­ples rather than the pleas­ant­ness — and the prin­ci­ples were pretty one-sided.”

The failed pres­i­den­tial can­di­date will likely not hold the top perch for long. He has al­ready ruled out a re­peat run in 2012 and has of­ten made clear that he ex­pects other Repub­li­cans to step up soon to be stan­dard bear­ers for the party.

Still, the se­na­tor, with noth­ing left to lose, is par­tic­u­larly well- placed to crit­i­cize Mr. Obama for his aban­don­ment of bi­par­ti­san ef­forts — a pledge the Demo­crat re­peat­edly made dur­ing his cam­paign against Mr. McCain. De­spite Mr. Obama’s at­tempt to sooth sore feel­ings by throw­ing a pre-inau­gu­ra­tion cel­e­bra­tion “din­ner” hon­or­ing Mr. McCain, the se­na­tor is mak­ing clear he will con­tinue to voice his ob­jec­tions loudly.

“It was very sig­nif­i­cant that he was pre­pared to look past the nice din­ner party that was held in his honor and look past all the nice words and rec­og­nize the level of bi­par­ti­san words — this was a very left-wing bill,” Mr. Gin­grich said.

The vet­eran se­na­tor, who first won a seat in Congress 27 years ago, when Pres­i­dent Obama was still study­ing po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Columbia Uni­ver­sity, has picked up just where he left off be­fore his run for the pres­i­dency. Long a critic of pork-bar­rel spending, the stim­u­lus pack­age put for­ward by Mr. Obama was a tai­lor­made is­sue for the Ari­zona se­na­tor to at­tack.

Un­like Sen. John Kerry, who im­me­di­ately faded into the back­ground af­ter he lost his bid against Ge­orge W. Bush in 2000, Mr. McCain has taken on a heavy load since his loss. The se­na­tor, who de­fied po­lit­i­cal risk when build­ing the bi­par­ti­san Gang of 14 in 2005 to en­sure mi­nor­ity Democrats were not left out of the de­bate, ripped his for­mer pres­i­den­tial op­po­nent for break­ing his pledge to move past par­ti­san­ship and work closely with Repub­li­cans, de­spite dif­fer­ences on pol­icy.

“It was a bad beginning be­cause it wasn’t what we promised the Amer­i­can peo­ple, what Pres­i­dent Obama promised the Amer­i­can peo­ple, that we would sit down to­gether,” Mr. McCain said Feb. 15 on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Look, I ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that the pres­i­dent came over and talked to Repub­li­cans. That’s not how you ne­go­ti­ate a re­sult. You sit down to­gether in a room with com­pet­ing pro­pos­als. Al­most all of our pro­pos­als went down on a party line vote.”

Mr. McCain also said that “can­di­date Obama said that th­ese con­fer­ences would be open to the pub­lic. He said that the Amer­i­can peo­ple would have five days to view [the bill] on the In­ter­net. There was com­mit­ments made that are cer­tainly not be­ing kept now.”

What’s more, Mr. McCain, the most ar­dent ad­vo­cate of the 2007 “surge” of com­bat troops to Iraq, has taken the lead­ing role in crit­i­ciz­ing Mr. Obama on the war in Afghanista­n. Af­ter the pres­i­dent last week an­nounced adding 17,000 troops there, the Se­nate’s top na­tional se­cu­rity ex­per t urged him to do more.

“More troops alone . . . will not lead to suc­cess there,” said Mr. McCain, who called on Obama to “spell out for the Amer­i­can peo­ple what he be­lieves victory in Afghanista­n will look like and ar­tic­u­late a co­her­ent strat­egy for achiev­ing it.”

“There still ex­ists no in­te­grated civil-mil­i­tary plan for this war — more than seven years af­ter we be­gan mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions. Such a strat­egy should spell out the way for­ward, in­clud­ing the ad­di­tional re­source re­quire­ments for its ex­e­cu­tion,” the se­na­tor said Feb. 17.

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