McCain Goes Courting on the Hill

Michael D. Shear and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sen. John McCain will meet with the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives today, acting more like the new head of the Republican Party after victories in Maryland, Virginia and the District.

At the request of his campaign, McCain (Ariz.) will visit the House Republican Conference, whose members include some who have said they felt physically ill at the prospect of the senator heading the ticket.

After the Potomac Primary, those members are even more likely than before to face a political dilemma: They could soon answer to the man they battled over tax cuts, embryonic stem cells, campaign finance laws, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and torture, among other issues.

The contentious relationship reached its apex in 2004 when then-House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) criticized McCain's credentials as a Republican. After McCain questioned whether Congress was asking a nation at war to sacrifice when it was cutting taxes, Hastert retorted, "If you want to see the sacrifice, John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed."

If McCain is looking for a warm welcome when he and GOP leaders go before the cameras at the Capitol Hill Club, he might think again.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) will endorse him, citing his role as chairman of the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), whose rural district went heavily for former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee on Feb. 5, will also decline to endorse, as will House Republican Conference Chairman Adam H. Putnam (R-Fla.), who has stayed neutral since his first choice, former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.), dropped out. Only the chief deputy whip, Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), is on the McCain team.

Boehner said on CNN: "When you look at his record on fiscal responsibility . . . he's a solid conservative. But clearly he has some work to do."

But in his speech Tuesday night, McCain sounded as if he had already assumed the mantle of the party's leader, talking in broad themes about how the party will define itself in the general election in November.

"We will offer different ideas, based in a better understanding of the challenges we face, and the resolve to confront them with confidence in the strength and ideals of free people," McCain said. "We don't believe that government has all the answers."

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