By J. Taylor Rushing and Bob Cusack - 02/25/10 11:00 AM EST
Sen. John McCainJohn McCainPundits react: Clinton won first debate Overnight Defense: Debate night is here | Senate sets vote on 9/11 veto override | Kerry, McCain spar over Syria Kerry fires back at McCain: I'm not 'delusional' MORE (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday he is confused about his relationship with Harry ReidHarry ReidShutdown risk grows over Flint Overnight Finance: Four days left to avert shutdown | Conservative group bucks spending bill | Lawmakers play catch-up on smartphone banking Reid blasts GOP senator over Flint 'hostage' comments MORE (D-Nev.), noting that the majority leader has a habit of lambasting him one day and praising him the next.
In an interview with The Hill, McCain said, “It’s very confusing because he was very personal in his attacks on me during the [2008 presidential] campaign, and then occasionally he’ll stand up on the floor of the Senate and say, ‘Oh, this good guy McCain.’ I don’t understand this. I don’t understand it.”
With a shrug and a laugh, McCain said, “I don’t hold any grudges. It’s just paradoxical some of the things he says. One day he’ll go out there and say one thing, and then the next day he’ll say another. You’ll have to ask him about what apparently are contrasting views about me…. He’s a bit contradictory.”
Reid spokesman Jim Manley declined to comment.
Reid and McCain came into the House in 1982 and both joined the Senate four years later. They are both navigating challenging reelection fights in neighboring Southwestern states that have been socked by the economic recession. Nevada’s housing market is the hardest-hit in the country; Arizona’s is second-worst.
In 2004, McCain and Reid — who are both avid boxing fans — attended a championship fight together in Nevada.
The 2008 election changed much between the two men. During the election year, Reid said he “couldn’t stand” McCain and labeled his campaign tactics “scummy.” He later acknowledged he had “said things I wish I hadn’t said.”
But the tension resurfaced. Reid recently accused McCain of flip-flopping on his support for Medicare and described him as a “name-caller. In a January New York Times article, Reid was quoted saying McCain has failed to live up to his potential as a “statesman” since the election.
Earlier this month, Reid said, “John has no reason to be the way he is. He’s become very, very kind of opposed to everything.”
McCain has sometimes returned fire. Minutes after Reid accused McCain of flip-flopping on Medicare cuts, McCain went to the floor and fired back at the majority leader.
Over the last year, McCain has become one of the most consistent critics of President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaGreen Party nominee escorted off debate premises Obama defends work on tribal issues Charlotte requires race discussion Hillary, Democrats refuse to have MORE and Reid’s legislative agenda. More than a few have said he’s bitter about losing the race.
Not so, says McCain.
“I am the luckiest guy who has ever lived that I’ve ever known,” McCain said. “For me to look back in anger, I mean, it’s just foolish. Some people say, ‘He’s bitter, he’s resentful.’ I’m not. I’m grateful.”
Asked if the GOP is ready to govern, McCain laughs and says, “We’re always ready to govern.
“We have to convince these independent voters out there that we did learn our lesson about spending and we will be fiscally responsible,” he said.
“You’ll notice that the approval ratings of Republicans hasn’t shot up. You’ll notice that the voter registrations for Republicans haven’t dramatically increased. So we still have a real sales job to do.”
McCain is facing what could be a challenging primary with former Rep. J.D. Hayworth. Even though polls show him comfortably ahead, McCain is taking nothing for granted.
“I know I’m in a tough fight. I’ve taken every campaign I’ve been in seriously. I take this one seriously,” he said.
McCain has enlisted his 2008 running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, to campaign for him in Arizona. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is also coming to Arizona next week to return the favor McCain paid him as an early supporter of his campaign.
And Mitt Romney, who ripped McCain regularly during the 2008 presidential primary, endorsed McCain this week.
McCain said he reached out to ask Palin, adding that the two talk “every few weeks.” He called Romney’s endorsement “very important.”
“He clearly ran a very impressive campaign in ’08,” McCain said of Romney. “Two, there are a lot of admirers of Gov. Romney in my state. He did very well in Arizona in the primary. And he’s viewed by many — I think very appropriately — as one of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination in 2012.”
Leaning back in a chair in his Russell Senate Office Building suite, decorated with Southwestern-motif paintings, McCain brushed off conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh’s criticism of Romney for endorsing McCain.
McCain doesn’t bite much at questions about what he would have done differently in the presidential race. But he does say it made his skin thicker.
“You learn, you grow … you learn to roll with the punches,” he said.
He called the Tea Party “a potent political force,” saying it “represents the frustration and dissatisfaction of Americans toward Washington and the Congress and the president.”
McCain said the so-called “birther” movement — a vocal group that has questioned Obama’s U.S. citizenship — “doesn’t have very much influence” among Republicans or the Tea Party. Hayworth aligned himself with the movement in a CNN interview this week in which he said “it would be great if people can confirm who they say they are.”
The 73-year-old senator said he hasn’t been asked by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) to campaign for him in his GOP primary battle with former state House Speaker Marco RubioMarco RubioGlenn Beck: I was wrong about Ted Cruz Senate rivals gear up for debates Rubio: End of Obama's term could be 'most damaging yet' MORE (R), but that he would be willing.
Crist and then-Sen. Mel Martinez (R) gave McCain a critical endorsement in the waning days of Florida’s GOP presidential primary in 2008 that helped McCain defeat Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Both dropped out of the primary race within days, clearing McCain’s path to the GOP nomination.
“Sure, I’d be glad to try to help him,” McCain said of Crist, who is under fire from conservatives for backing Obama’s stimulus package.
A month after Obama’s one-year anniversary in office, McCain declined to offer a grade on the president’s performance, but indicated he would grade much lower than the B+ that Obama gave himself.
However, McCain said Obama has acted wisely in trying to improve America’s image abroad and increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.
“But domestically, I have to say very frankly that America is a right-of-center nation and he’s governing from the left,” McCain said. “That is why the American people have expressed their dissatisfaction.”
On the eve of the healthcare summit at the White House, which McCain will be attending, he also said Obama’s apparent strategy to push the bill through the Senate without GOP support contradicts his campaign-trail pledge to seek bipartisanship. Obama and Reid appear poised to use reconciliation rules to get the bill through the Senate with a simple majority.
“They’re in a very difficult position,” McCain said of Democrats.
“If they do nothing, they have failed for a year in the view of most observers. But if they jam something through with reconciliation, then they risk a backlash.”
Cracking a smile, McCain said, “Obviously, I prefer option A.”