Senator McCain looks back at the “gang of 14” and the immigration fight

Senator McCain held another blogger conference call today. These are virtuoso performances in terms of McCain’s ability candidly and knowledgeably to answer questions on a wide range of topics, and the ease and gusto with which he does it. It’s easy for political figures to seem synthetic in this context, but no one can say that about McCain.
Before taking questions, McCain denounced the ethics reform act the Senate passed tody. He called it “a sham and a joke” because although there are some good provisions on lobbying, the legislation doesn’t really get at earmarks. Senators DeMint and Coburn are holding a blogger conference on the subject later today and we hope to have a more in-depth report.
Regarding Iraq, McCain informed us that General Petraeus is expected to appear before Congress on or around September 11 and that President Bush will give his report on September 15. Then the Senate will debate what to do. McCain continues to see military progress and is heartened that others who “some may consider more objective” are seeing it too. Will this turn the political tide in Washington? McCain couldn’t say, but he noted that there are Senators who “honestly agonize over Iraq” and who “may be willing to take another look” if they continue to hear credible reports of progress.
Here a few highlights from the question and answer session:
McCain is very unhappy about the Senate’s failure to act on the nomination of Judge Southwick. As an aside (but an important one) he plugged the “gang of 14 deal” which resulted in the confirmation of several judges who had been blocked when the Republicans were in control, and eased the way for Roberts and Alito. Of course, without this deal, the Republican majority could changed the rules in a way that would have enabled to fill additional judicial vacancies including (if I’m not mistaken) the one Southwick now has been nominated for. The wisdom of the gang of 14 deal remains, in my view, an open question.
In response to a question I asked, McCain revisited the immigration battle, which he believes was a massive blow to his campaign. He attributes the political problem to his inability to convince people that the government would actually enforce our borders. Significantly, I think, McCain showed a good understanding of why people lacked that faith (he pointed to the 1986 experience, for example). He said that “next time” he’ll include measures designed to create more confidence in enforcement, including perhaps a requirement that border state governors certify that enforcement is working before other elements of comprehensive reform go forward.
McCain said, in effect, that the success of his campaign depends on convincing people, through town hall meetings for example, that though they may disagree with him on some major issues his honesty and integrity make him someone they can trust, and therefore someone they should elect.
Few would dispute the “trust” part of that statement.
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