By Martin Matishak - 04/22/15 06:00 AM EDT
The long-simmering feud between Sens. John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: Congress overrides Obama 9/11 veto | Pentagon breathes easy after funding deal | More troops heading to Iraq McCain comments won't derail Bergdahl case Senators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override MORE and Ted CruzTed CruzHouse approves stopgap funding, averting costly shutdown Overnight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Could Snapchat be the digital bridge to younger voters? MORE boiled over this week.
McCain mocked Cruz after the Texas senator claimed he had lobbied McCain to let U.S. troops carry their personal firearms around military installations.
McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had never heard from the 2016 presidential hopeful or his staff about the controversial topic.
Cruz, a Tea Party favorite from Texas, on Tuesday morning confessed he had misspoken and later formally sent a letter to McCain asking the chairman to look into the topic.
He brushed off any suggestion of animosity — but then offered a back-handed compliment to McCain, who is well-known for talking to the media.
“Oh, I like John McCain,” Cruz said. “He can always be counted on for a good quote.”
The back and forth highlights the role that McCain, the presidential nominee for the GOP in 2008, might have in an election year in which three senators already joined the party’s presidential primary.
A fourth, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), is expected to join them. A close friend of McCain’s, he shares the same outlook on national security and foreign policy.
McCain and Cruz have battled before, and the Arizona senator also has a testy relationship with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another presidential contender. The third GOP senator already in the race, Florida’s Marco Rubio, worked with McCain and Graham on a controversial immigration bill in 2013.
Cruz and McCain got off to a rocky start shortly after the Texas Republican joined the Senate that year and suggested that former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) — President Obama’s pick to lead the Pentagon and a Vietnam veteran like McCain — was influenced financially by foreign countries such as North Korea.
“I just want to make it clear: Sen. Hagel is an honorable man. He has served his country and no one on this committee at any time should impugn his character or his integrity,” McCain said.
The Arizona lawmaker enraged some conservatives shortly thereafter when he called Paul and Cruz “wacko birds.” McCain later apologized.
The two have bumped heads since, usually over foreign policy and legislative styles.
The disagreements, more often than not, end with McCain vowing that Cruz is a friend and a “valued member” of the Armed Services panel.
National security figures to be a key topic in the race for the White House and is likely to give McCain more opportunities for disagreeing with Cruz.
The latest dust-up actually began on the campaign trail last weekend.
Cruz told a group of gun-owners at an event in New Hampshire that he had been “pressing” McCain for hearings to look into allowing troops to carry private firearms on military installations.
Cruz and other lawmakers contend that mass shootings on military sites, like the two that occurred at Fort Hood, could have been prevented if service members had been packing.
A feisty McCain laughed off the assertion when lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill on Monday.
“Maybe it was through some medium that I’m not familiar with. Maybe bouncing it off the ozone layer, for all I know,” he joked about Cruz’s alleged “pressing,” as if delivering a comic routine.
“There’s a lot of holes in the ozone layer, so maybe it wasn’t the ozone layer that he bounced it off of. Maybe it was through hand telegraph, maybe sign language. Who knows?” he said smiling, eventually bending over with laughter.
A noticeably more subdued McCain on Tuesday seemed ready to bury the hatchet.
“It’s just one of those things,” he said. “He and I are good friends and he’s a valued member of the Armed Services Committee.”
McCain said he referred the firearm issue to the committee’s personnel subpanel, which, coincidentally, is helmed by Graham, whom McCain enjoys calling his “illegitimate son.”
“I’ve got to make sure it’s OK with Sen. McCain, but it’d be OK with me,” Graham said Tuesday of Cruz’s proposal.