By Alexander Bolton - 06/14/12 10:00 AM EDT
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said this week that President Obama never made a sincere effort to reach out to him after the 2008 election.
McCain was once seen as a potential ally of Obama. But far from becoming a partner — as the left hoped for and the right feared — McCain has turned into one of Obama’s thorniest adversaries.
McCain disputes the notion that he has rejected entreaties to cooperate with the White House because he is bitter from his defeat four years ago.
He said he expressed eagerness to work with the president on immigration reform and the line-item veto, but has been left out in the cold.
McCain, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, also said Obama failed to consult with him on national-security issues.
“He never asked for advice on national-security nominees,” McCain said.
Some Republicans thought the Arizona Republican would emerge as a bipartisan dealmaker who could help Obama achieve his goal of bringing Democrats and Republicans together to address major policy problems.
In a 2009 op-ed, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) described McCain as Obama’s “ace in the hole.”
Santorum’s analysis seemed prescient when Obama honored McCain at a candlelight dinner before taking the oath of office.
McCain, however, said the gesture was not backed up by actions.
“This idea that this president or his people reached out to me is patently false,” he said. “To somehow allege that I didn’t somehow respond to their overtures, that’s patently false. That’s their narrative, and I understand their narrative, but it’s not substantiated by the facts.”
McCain pointed out that Obama invited him to the White House in 2009 to discuss immigration reform.
“I said, ‘I’d love to join you,’ and never heard from him,” McCain said.
A White House spokeswoman declined to comment.
Instead of helping Obama lay the groundwork for bipartisan coalition-building, McCain galvanized Senate Republican opposition to the 2009 stimulus package and the 2010 healthcare reform proposal.
Democrats, however, question whether McCain was really ready to strike bipartisan deals on healthcare and immigration in 2010 when he faced a challenge from his right flank in the Arizona Senate Republican primary.
McCain shifted to the right to fend off former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) during the last election cycle.
Following McCain’s reelection and the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), Obama met with the Arizona senator at the White House in February of last year. Articles on the powwow suggested the McCain-Obama relationship was on the mend.
Obama extended the invite after McCain praised the president’s response to the Giffords shooting in a glowing Washington Post op-ed.
“We discussed two issues, immigration reform and the line-item veto, which I’m still a supporter of,” McCain recalled. “He said, ‘We’ll be getting back to you.’ I never heard from him, never heard from him again.”
McCain has criticized Obama sharply on a range of issues, including the economy, healthcare and national security. This week, McCain introduced a resolution calling for Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special counsel to investigate intelligence leaks within the administration.
He has called the administration’s foreign policy “feckless” and dubbed an Obama campaign ad “pathetic.”
McCain ripped Obama this spring for touting the successful raid to assassinate al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
“Heroes don’t brag,” he said at the time.
The five-term senator has played an active role in the GOP presidential primary. Worried about Newt Gingrich’s rise in the polls late last year, McCain endorsed Mitt Romney, his 2008 rival, before the New Hampshire primary. The two men are not close, but McCain has become one of Romney’s top surrogates on cable news networks.
Interestingly, Obama has repeatedly invoked McCain on the campaign trail this year in an effort to portray Romney’s policies as extreme. The president has said he and McCain agree on some issues, such as campaign finance reform and climate change. In contrast, Romney, Obama said Tuesday night, is “pretty much in sync with the vision of the House Republican Party.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), McCain’s best friend in the upper chamber, said Obama set the tone early when he declined to negotiate on the size of the stimulus package.
McCain proposed an alternative $421 billion stimulus, which Democrats killed on a party-line vote.
“It started off pretty good, but unfortunately we’re in a contested world right now,” said Graham. “Instead of reaching out to Sen. McCain to try to find a compromise between his $450 billion package and [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi’s [Calif.] $782 billion, they jammed it through and ObamaCare was jammed through and the rest is history.”
Obama and McCain faced off at the healthcare summit the president hosted at Blair House in February of 2010, shortly before Congress finalized the sweeping reform.
McCain remembers it clearly as a missed opportunity to find bipartisan compromise.
The senator said at the meeting that his constituents wanted both parties “to sit down together and do what’s best for all Americans, not just for some people that live in Florida or happen to live in other favored states.”
“I hope that that would be an argument for us to go through this 2,400-page document, remove all the special deals for the special interests and favored few and treat all Americans the same,” he said at the time.
Obama responded, “Let me just make this point, John, because we’re not campaigning anymore. The election is over.”