The incoherence of John McCain

The Senate has confirmed Tom Perez as Secretary of Labor on a straight party line vote. The key vote occurred earlier in the week when cloture was invoked by a vote of 60-40.

This, of course, was not a straight party line vote. The Democrats needed six Republicans to vote with them.

The Democrats found those votes, mostly (but not entirely) among the usual suspects. Voting for cloture were: Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mark Kirk, Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, and John McCain.

McCain’s vote is the most interesting. He parted company with his Gang of Eight colleague Marco Rubio. The Florida Senator argued passionately, and correctly, that Perez has not produced a slew of documents requested by Darrell Issa’s committee, and thus should not be confirmed.

McCain also parted company with his partner Lindsey Graham, who believes (as I do) that the president should have the cabinet of his choosing absent special circumstances. Failure to respond to lawful document requests by Congress would seem to be a special circumstance.

I was on an overnight trip to the mountains when I read an email about McCain’s vote on cloture for Perez. My first thought was, wait until the next time McCain throws a fit against a nominee who won’t answer one of his pet questions.

I didn’t have to wait long. Indeed, I was still in the mountains when, just one day after McCain ignored the plea of Marco Rubio, the erratic Arizona Senator threatened to block the renomination of Gen. Martin Dempsey for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff because Dempsey wouldn’t answer McCain’s question about his private view of what the U.S. should do in Syria.

During a confirmation hearing earlier Thursday, Dempsey sidestepped questions from McCain and other Republican senators about what course of action he has recommended that President Obama take in Syria. Dempsey said the administration was still weighing its options and that “it would be inappropriate for me to try to influence the decision with me rendering an opinion in public about what kind of force we should use.”

Dempsey’s response frustrated McCain, who said the general had pledged to share his personal views with the Armed Services Committee, even if they were at odds with the administration’s public stance.

“I want him to answer the question,” McCain told reporters after the hearing. He said he would block a vote on the renomination “until Gen. Dempsey responds to the legitimate questions that he committed to do.”

Dempsey’s refusal to disclose his private opinion while the administration is deciding what to do (or not do) in Syria seems proper to me. But even if I’m wrong about this, it’s clear that Dempsey’s reticence is much less of a transgression than Perez’s refusal to comply with a document request from a committee of Congress. For McCain, presumably, the distinction between his request and that of Issa’s committee is that the former is his request.

But Marco Rubio is right. Perez’s refusal to produce documents requested by Congress demonstrates a disrespect for lawful process and an unwillingness to cooperate with Congress that, among other grounds, should disqualify him from serving in the cabinet.

I voted for McCain for president and, given the alternative, I’m glad I did. But can you imagine what a wild and incoherent ride a McCain presidency would have been?

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