With that, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee began a final frenzy of negotiations that resulted in Tuesday’s deal to secure the confirmation of nominees for his onetime rival, President Obama, while keeping Reid from deploying an unprecedented party-line maneuver to change filibuster rules.
It also cemented the return of the self-proclaimed “Maverick McCain,” who spent most of his Senate career as a freewheeling dealmaker with a penchant for irritating GOP leaders and lacerating those who crossed him. In the past six months, McCain has been at the center of two big bipartisan deals to avert showdowns over proposed filibuster changes and, just last month, he ushered a comprehensive immigration overhaul across the Senate floor with 68 votes.
McCain, 76, has assumed the mantle of the “Old Bulls” who have departed the Senate in the past decade, powerful committee chairmen like the late Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.), who retired in January 2009.
Nothing better captured this as well as the whirling tide of emotion and the soaring words of praise for McCain as Reid announced the deal.
“John McCain is the reason we’re at the point we are,” Reid said, adding that the senator from Arizona acted “at his own peril.”
Just five years ago, in the heat of the Obama-McCain campaign, the majority leader publicly declared “I can’t stand John McCain,” while also questioning his temperament to be president. A decade ago McCain was still feuding with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) because of the eponymous campaign finance law that McConnell filed a federal lawsuit against to try to overturn.
Yet in recent years McConnell has appointed the former Vietnam prisoner of war as the GOP caucus’s de facto leader on national security issues.
The key to this strategy was trust, McCain said Tuesday. “You just build up some trust with people, they trust your word, they trust your confidence.”
That, and building up his cellphone’s battery, as McCain twice drained the power on his device in late-night phone calls Monday. One conversation with his newest bargaining partner, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), prompted him to just plug the device into its charger and keep talking.
Democrats said that McCain’s role showed McConnell’s diminished power over his caucus, saying that Reid and Schumer dealt almost exclusively with the Arizona senator and repeatedly rebuffed McConnell’s offers of a different framework for a deal. Schumer said McConnell had been searching for a deal that would have allowed the confirmation of controversial nominees to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board, if Reid swore off any intention to use a party-line vote to limit filibusters through 2014.