New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg filed a flattering story on Sen. John McCain, “In Twilight of Career, McCain Becomes an Unfettered Voice Against Trumpism.” The text box of Saturday’s story was even more syrupy: “After a cancer diagnosis, an even more vocal defender of national ideals.” So where was this praise from Stolberg when Sen. McCain dared stand in the way of President Obama?
Senator John McCain, the sometimes cantankerous, often charming and eternally irrepressible Republican from Arizona, has never minced words. But in the twilight of a long and storied career, as he fights a virulent form of brain cancer, the 81-year-old senator has found a new voice.
In twin speeches -- one in July, where he issued a call to bipartisanship in the Senate, and another in Philadelphia this past week, where he railed against “half-baked, spurious nationalism” -- Mr. McCain has taken on both his colleagues and President Trump. In the process, his friends and fellow senators say, he has carved out a new role for himself on Capitol Hill: elder statesman and truth-teller.
In Philadelphia, the National Constitution Center awarded Mr. McCain its Liberty Medal, honoring his lifetime of public service. The senator’s acceptance speech was a treatise on his expansive view of America’s role in the world -- a role that, he fears, is being diminished by Mr. Trump’s leadership.
Mr. Biden said he took the speech as a pointed message, if not to Mr. Trump, then to the nation. “I think he was delivering a message to the country, to his colleagues and to any of the opinion makers that would listen, and that is, ‘Look, this is serious stuff, our role in the world is not guaranteed, democracy is not guaranteed, we know how to do this and, damn it, we’d better focus and know what’s at stake.’”
The president, though, took it personally.
Stolberg loved McCain getting the better of President Trump rhetorically.
“People have to be careful, because at some point, I fight back,” Mr. Trump said in a radio interview with WMAL in Washington. “I’m being nice. I’m being very, very nice. But at some point, I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.”
To which Mr. McCain, a former Navy captain who was tortured during more than five years as a prisoner in Vietnam, shot back: “I have faced tougher adversaries.”
Today, he is one of the few Republicans who regularly crosses the aisle, on matters ranging from immigration to health care. In July, he cast the final vote -- a dramatic thumbs down -- as a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act was defeated.
The reaction to his health care vote “surprised him,” Mr. Biden said, “how much impact it had in giving courage to others of his own party.”
But Stolberg’s current laudatory opinion of Sen. McCain’s attacks on a sitting president are quite different from how she felt when McCain was standing the way of liberal Democratic president (and McCain’s 2008 president opponent) Barack Obama.
In January 2015, after Republicans took over the U.S. Senate after the 2014 elections, Stolberg lamented that McCain “still seems to be in clobber mode.”
An excerpt from that earlier piece:
“McCain now has the power either to destroy the president’s national security policy or shape it constructively,” said Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “This is the first step to see whether he is going to use his new power to clobber Obama as he has for the past six years, or whether he will use it to try to shape and improve Obama’s policy.”
For now, despite hints that he is trying to reinvent himself from cantankerous Obama critic to elder statesman, Mr. McCain still seems to be in clobber mode.
Senior Senate Democrats say they respect Mr. McCain for his expertise and bipartisan deal-making on issues like immigration, and they hold out the possibility that Mr. McCain will do more on the Armed Services Committee than browbeat Mr. Obama’s nominees during confirmation hearings, as he has in the past....”