“If it gets done, he would certainly deserve a large degree of credit for helping the party,” said Charlie Black, a longtime McCain confidant.
“It’s a legacy thing that’s not only important for him but for the country,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.). Grijalva said that he questions McCain’s commitment to reform because the senator took a hard right turn on the issue to mollify the tea party in 2010. He had confidence that McCain’s desire to achieve something big would temper what some see as a mean streak. “You don’t want to become a caricature of yourself as you are finishing out in this business.”
A possible transformation
Change is evident.
McCain is now working with no less a Democratic standard-bearer than New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, saying nice things about Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) for preserving Senate rules, and suggesting that immigration reform could pass the House with bipartisan support because the number of those manifestly opposed to working with Democrats — presumably, tea party members — had “shrunk. Thank God.”
Yet McCain rejects the notion that he needs immigration reform to restore his image or, for that matter, that he has ever changed.
“When I was going against the [George W.] Bush administration — ‘Haha, he’s the maverick. He’s the guy who’s standing up.’ I go up against Obama, and ‘Ah! That angry, dirty, old man,’ ” McCain said. “I may have, quote, evolved. . . . I haven’t changed any.”
Mark Salter, who co-wrote McCain’s narrative-establishing memoir, “Worth the Fighting For: The Education of an American Maverick, and the Heroes Who Inspired Him,” also said he doesn’t see any difference.
“What’s changed?” Salter wrote in an e-mail, blaming the media for being irresistibly drawn to “narratives that attribute perceived behavioral changes to some kind of psycho-drama.” In fact, he said, “the truth is simpler.”
McCain’s zeal on Benghazi, he said, reflects not his hatred of Obama for beating him and the administration for treating him shabbily, but his earnest interest in Benghazi and the security of U.S. personnel overseas. His skewering of Hagel was simply an attempt to hold a slippery witness accountable.
“The media used to applaud it,” Salter said. “Now, they don’t.”
Many stages in his career
But for a man who hasn’t changed, he has covered a lot of ground. He came to the Senate as a rank-and-file conservative in 1987, became embroiled in a savings-and-loan scandal in the early ’90s, bucked his party and took on Big Tobacco, pitched himself as a straight-talking maverick presidential candidate in 2000, led the passage of historic bipartisan campaign-finance reform in 2002, took on Bush Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to push for the 2006 surge in Iraq, joined Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) twice for comprehensive immigration reform, adopted a more conservative tune on abortion and immigration in the run-up to the 2008 presidential contest, picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, claimed “I never considered myself a maverick” as he faced a tea party challenge for his Senate seat in 2010 and mounted consistent and intense opposition to the Obama administration.