(See UPDATE at the end.)
It is unfortunate that a careless person in the Trump White House made the callous remark—even if in a supposedly private setting—that John McCain doesn’t matter because “he’s dying anyway.” First, that staffer, Kelly Sadler, obviously doesn’t know the first rule of Washington, which is that nothing is ever truly off the record, especially in White House staff meetings, though coming in a close second is the rule that “in Washington, all microphones are live.” (Pro tip: don’t ever put on a lavaliere mic and then go to the bathroom. Don’t believe the sound tech guy who tells you the mic is turned off until you’re on stage and ready to speak. Especially if you are a conservative and the hotel ballroom tech guy has a union t-shirt on.)
Of course, while Sadler was foolish, how does the substance of her remark differ from the liberals who gleefully point out that the Trump majority is temporary at best because so many Trump voters are old and dying off quickly? I have heard political science professors say this very thing several times in recent weeks at academic gatherings. You’d be tempted to call such remarks deplorable if the word hadn’t already been culturally appropriated by a certain pants-suited person who won’t go away.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, I was talking about people who won’t go away, especially the sanctimonious John McCain. It is almost easy to forget him these days since he has not cast a single vote in the Senate this year. Yes, we feel bad for the senator’s grievous illness, and everyone of good will should wish him a full recovery. It is possible to honor the man’s service to his country, both in uniform and in public office, and still argue that he drives us crazy some of the time. But the crucial point is this: his illness is depriving Arizona of half its representation in the Senate.
Even California’s Senator Claire Engel, suffering from a similar brain tumor in the summer of 1964, managed to have himself wheeled onto the Senate floor to cast a dramatic vote in favor of the fiercely contested Civil Rights Act by pointing to his eye (for “Aye”) during the roll-call vote, because he was unable to speak. (Sen. Engel died just a couple weeks later.) By contrast, McCain is out in Arizona, and unable even to make an appearance for a crucial vote on anything, with no indication that a return to Washington is possible or likely.
McCain should resign, and allow Arizona’s Republican governor to appoint a replacement so that the Senate is back to full strength. This is especially appropriate given the narrow Republican majority in the Senate. His absence is causing majority leader Mitch McConnell significant difficulties on close votes. (By the way, Arizona’s current Republican governor, Doug Ducey, is up for re-election this November. What if he were to lose? Then McCain’s seat might be flipped to Democrats if he passes away after the first of next year.)
The cause of this is easy to see. McCain’s extreme vanity gets in the way of putting the public interest ahead of his towering ego. Meanwhile, he continues to grandstand in his convalescence, this week saying that he opposes the confirmation of Gina Haspel to be CIA director because she’s a torturer, and also saying that he regrets picking Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. I regret it too, because her premature elevation to the national stage, with no serious preparation for it by McCain’s staff, ruined a talented person with a bright future ahead. And the motivation for him to make such a graceless statement about Palin just now is obvious: it plays well with his real base—the news media. Clearly it is working. Is there anything more nauseating than this headline from Dana “the Mountebank” Milbank:
Palin, incidentally, is never anything but fully loyal about McCain whenever she is asked. Apparently for McCain, loyalty is a one-way street.
Also today, McCain has an article in the Wall Street Journal on the subject, “Vladimir Putin Is an Evil Man.” With an article like this, you know right away that you are in the presence of no ordinary mind.
Trump is likely pleased that McCain has said that he doesn’t want the sitting president to come to his funeral (more time to golf!), in part because it also exposes a likely further motivation for McCain’s stubbornness—McCain is sticking around as long as he can to spite Trump for the disrespect Trump showed McCain with his infamous campaign remark about McCain’s heroism. (This is surely part of the reason for the ostentatious way McCain cast his decisive Senate vote against the Obamacare repeal last year.) So much for putting the national interest over personal ambition. McCain is now diminishing whatever residual residual good will he still has with Republicans.
UPDATE: Commenter Wayne Siebert notes that if McCain were to resign before May 30, there’d have to be a special election for his seat in November, and Arizona already has one senate seat (Jeff Flake’s) up already this year (and that race is crazy enough all by itself), whereas after May 30, an appointment from the governor would be for the remainder of McCain’s current term. I’ll try to check on this later (about to board another airplane in a few minutes), but if correct this casts the matter in a different light, though I’ll let this post stand as is for now, and perhaps re-up it after May 30 if McCain’s position remains unchanged, or retract it entirely if he resigns.