In a letter last month to the State Department’s inspector general requesting an investigation, the House Republicans cited a study from a conservative think tank that said Abedin “has three family members — her late father, mother and her brother — connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations. Her position affords her routine access to the secretary and to policymaking.”
Around noon, a somber McCain rose in her defense — not just to support a friend but also to take on fringe voices in his own party. It was a familiar role for McCain, who built a reputation as a maverick with a willingness to criticize what he believes are radical views within his party.
In his first bid for the presidency, in 2000, McCain labeled Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell “agents of intolerance.” And in his 2008 campaign, amid rising conspiracy theories about then-Sen. Barack Obama, McCain took the microphone from a woman at one of his town hall meetings who had called Obama an “Arab.”
“No ma’am,” McCain said, “he’s a decent family man.”
McCain’s candor has, at times, gotten him in trouble with his own party, although no one, aside from Bachmann, criticized his remarks Wednesday. A spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to comment, as did most of the others who signed the letter.
“Rarely do I come to the floor of this institution to discuss particular individuals,” McCain said at the beginning of his remarks. “But I understand how painful and injurious it is when a person’s character, reputation and patriotism are attacked without concern for fact or fairness.”
McCain called Abedin a friend and a devoted public servant, and denounced what he called “sinister” accusations. The charges “are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American and a loyal public servant,” McCain said. “These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit. And they need to stop now.”
The Arizona senator chastised his fellow Republicans for distorting what it means to be an American.
“This is about who we are as a nation, and who we still aspire to be. . . . When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.”
There was little immediate reaction to the 7.5-minute speech in the otherwise empty Senate chamber, but the attention of Capitol Hill quickly shifted to the House, where lawmakers were taking up a bill about looming defense spending cuts. After a 1:15 p.m. vote, Bachmann darted out of the Speaker’s Lobby and down a flight of stairs, a spokesman shooing reporters away.