by Matt Stoller, Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 03:11:54 AM EST
The McCain-Obama fight is one of those insider-y deals which has nothing to do with the argument and everything to do with changing power dynamics in the Senate. Currently, McCain is trying to push Obama off the bipartisan reform stage, and using a vicious attacks and the complicit Beltway talking heads to do so. I'm not just saying that, read the correspondence (or read the partisan blog Redstate's joyous celebrations over McCain's red meat throw). It's extremely clear that Obama is asking McCain for a procedural request, while McCain's letter is bitterly sarcastic, partisan, and insulting. Obama's second letter, praising McCain, makes this point especially well. A key figure here is Lieberman, because he was actually at the meeting where the misunderstanding took place, and because he is part of the bipartian group working on lobbying reform. As I wrote yesterday:
Lieberman can call out McCain on his partisan slash-and-burn strategy, and buttress Obama's claim to bipartisanship. Or he can participate in the smear and ask both sides to calm down, even though this attack is entirely one-sided and it is very clear that Obama is seeking a bipartisan good ethics bill.
Well, on Imus this morning, Don Imus interviewed Lieberman. And while I don't have the transcript yet, the gist of the conversation was as follows. Imus asked Lieberman about the fight, and Lieberman alleged that it was all a big misunderstanding and that both men had were interested in getting a good bipartisan bill out of the process. He implied that both men had cleared up the misunderstanding. Imus at that point interjected that McCain stands by his letter, and Lieberman changed course. Lieberman then said that McCain stood by his letter, and Obama stood by his letter, except that Obama probably wishes he were a little clearer.
And then Imus and Lieberman talked about Joe's wife and how she leaves angry diatribes on his voice mail, and that he can just delete them. Finally, Lieberman added that he hopes it's a one day story, on the third day of the story, on Imus. Later in the interview, he bragged about his work with McCain on some legislation. Looks like he made his choice.
Oh, and earlier in the interview, Lieberman agreed with Imus that there was "some nonsense" at Coretta Scott King's funeral.
UPDATE: I should add that Lieberman is a very mild-mannered and nice man, and so if you're not aware of the context this can appear a bit overanalytical. But the choices he's making are clear.
UPDATE: It's not just my imagination. A Senate aide watching the interview this morning sent me this comment:
Absolutely spot on. He sold Obama so far down the river that he's now swimming off the gulf coast.
by Matt Stoller, Tue Feb 07, 2006 at 11:04:38 AM EST
Josh Marshall makes an excellent point
on the McCain-Obama tiff
But the key here to note is what's behind this dust-up. Obama is a rising star among the Democrats. Republicans want to lay a backstory for feature criticisms and character attacks against him. So, for instance, if Obama is the vice presidential candidate in 2008, they want to have a history of attacks on him banked, ones that allege he's a liar, or too partisan, or untrustworthy, whatever. It doesn't even really matter. What matters is that there already be an established history of them. Point being, that in early 2008, they want to be able to simply refer back to Obama's 'character issue', the questions about his honesty, etc. rather than have to make the case on its merits.
That's not surprising. One only needs to think back to the Gore story, etc.
What shouldn't be missed here, though, is that Sen. McCain is quite consciously and deliberately making himself a part of this. Why? Simple. Because he needs to get right with the GOP establishment in DC. (Indeed, he probably also wants to be the future beneficiary of the sliming.) Being loved by moderates and progressives doesn't cut it for getting the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
Don't miss why he's doing this. It's the roll-out of the slime Obama campaign. And he's leading the charge.
We'll learn a lot from how Obama responds.
This is worth expanding on a bit. There were two other people at the meeting - Susan Collins, moderate Republican from Maine and Democrat Joe Lieberman, the moderate Democrat from Connecticut. Lieberman can and will weigh in on this conflict, and were he a reasonable man I would imagine he would take one look at the series of letters and realize that John McCain was way out of line. Now, this is the critical point to keep in mind - Lieberman is the only Democratic Senator who was in the room at the time, so the press will pay special attention to what he says. Lieberman can call out McCain on his partisan slash-and-burn strategy, and buttress Obama's claim to bipartisanship. Or he can participate in the smear and ask both sides to calm down, even though this attack is entirely one-sided and it is very clear that Obama is seeking a bipartisan good ethics bill.
That's what I'm watching. Will Lieberman support his fellow Democratic Senate colleague in pursuit of a well-structured bipartisan approach to ethics reform? Or will he support John McCain's (who he quasi-endorsed for President) attempt to derail the whole process?
And Ned Lamont should be watching this too. If Obama gets sandbagged by his colleague, it'll test a lot of insiders' patience with Lieberman. The netroots can't beat Lieberman alone, but with enough enemies, we can help Lieberman beat himself.
UPDATE: I'm told Pryor attended part of the meeting as well.
by Bridget Dwyer, Mon Feb 06, 2006 at 02:37:16 PM EST
McCain released to the public today a letter he sent to Illinois's Junior Senator Barack Obama. I love Senator Obama but he has been starting to grate on me lately. I'm beginning to wonder if all the hype was too much for anyone to meet up to.
McCain slams Obama in the letter I reproduce below the fold. What do you think?
by Matt Stoller, Mon Feb 06, 2006 at 01:49:43 PM EST
I just got an email from someone on Obama's staff. Apparently Obama doesn't want a flame war.
February 6, 2006
The Honorable John McCain
United States Senate
241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
During my short time in the U.S. Senate, one of the aspects about this institution that I have come to value most is the collegiality and the willingness to put aside partisan differences to work on issues that help the American people. It was in this spirit that I approached you to work on ethics reform, and it was in this spirit that I agreed to attend your bipartisan meeting last week. I appreciated then - and still do appreciate - your willingness to reach out to me and several other Democrats.
For this reason, I am puzzled by your response to my recent letter. Last Wednesday morning, you called to invite me to your meeting that afternoon. I changed my schedule so I could attend the meeting. Afterwards, you thanked me several times for attending the meeting, and we left pledging to work together.
As you will recall, I told everyone present at the meeting that my caucus insisted that the consideration of any ethics reform proposal go through the regular committee process. You didn't indicate any opposition to this position at the time, and I wrote the letter to reiterate this point, as well as the fact that I thought S. 2180 should be the basis for a bipartisan solution.
I confess that I have no idea what has prompted your response. But let me assure you that I am not interested in typical partisan rhetoric or posturing. The fact that you have now questioned my sincerity and my desire to put aside politics for the public interest is regrettable but does not in any way diminish my deep respect for you nor my willingness to find a bipartisan solution to this problem.
United States Senator
McCain will probably respond by killing Obama's dog.
by Matt Stoller, Mon Feb 06, 2006 at 01:30:34 PM EST
Now this is fun.
An outraged Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) today called Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) insincere and partisan, suggesting the Illinois freshman as much as lied in private dicussions the two had about ethics reform last week.
Obama sent McCain a letter asking him to cosponsor the Democratic proposal on ethics reform rather than appointing a task force on the issue. McCain's response is one of the single most bitter, nasty letters I have ever seen from any Senator. It's rather remarkable, actually, and gives the lie to the notion that McCain is of a bipartisan mind.
I'm having trouble opening the PDF of McCain's letter, so I'll take the text from Marc Ambinder and Patrick Ottenhoff's well-written blog post.
"When you approached me and insisted that despite your leadership's preference to use the issue to gain a political advantage in the 2006 elections, you were personally committed to achieving a result that would reflect credit on the entire Senate and offer the country a better example of political leadership, I concluded your professed concern for the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable. Thank you for disabusing me of such notions with your letter. ... I'm embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interept your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in political to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble. Again, sorry for the confusion, but please be assured I won't make the same mistake again."
Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, called McCain's letter "confusing" and "headscratching." He said Obama "remains committed" to reform and will work with "any Republican and Democrat" who is serious about the issue. His letter to McCain, said Gibbs, signaled his preference "to get legislation through committee, rather than wait for a task force."
In his letter, McCain says that his task force proposal would ensure that meaningless or cosmetic reforms aren't rushed into law -- and that the solution in the end would reflect the interests of both parties and their voters.
His last line suggests that Obama will not soon regain McCain's favor.
Writes McCain, "I understand how important the opportunity to lead your party's effort to exploit this issue must seem to a freshman Senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your earlier disingenuousness. Again, I have been around long enough to appreciate that in politics the public interest isn't always a priority for every one of us. Good luck to you, Senator."
Bipartisanship is dead. That's just true. It's sad, but Republicans have become too partisan to work for the good of the country. Voters will need to repair this at the ballot box in November.