Yesterday I wrote appreciatively of Sen. John McCain’s defense of a free press in #NotTheEnemy: Pushing back against Trump’s war on the press. For example:
"If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and, many times, adversarial press,” McCain added. “And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”
But one of my readers reminded me that there is another side to McCain saying “McCain is a Toothless Tiger. He has voted Trump YES on every item put to him so far. Did the Washington Post note that?” The discrepancy was also noted by MSNBC/Maddowblog writer Steve Benen, If only John McCain’s actions matched John McCain’s rhetoric. Here are snippets.
[McCain’s rhetoric] has led to a resurgence of media affection for the longtime senator – with plenty of outlets dragging his “maverick” nickname out of storage. The New York Times today labeled McCain Trump’s “Critic in Chief.”
Before the gushing gets completely out of hand, it’s worth pausing to appreciate the disconnect between McCain’s rhetoric and his actions.
Sure, the GOP senator has been willing to criticize Trump – at times, in surprisingly forceful terms – which is more than can be said for many of his congressional Republican colleagues, nearly all of whom remain silent, despite genuine concerns. [And, Scriber notes, more than a few Democratic Senators as well.] But McCain doesn’t just give speeches and sit down for interviews; he’s also a sitting senator who casts votes.
And in the Senate, so far this year, McCain is voting with Trump’s position 94% of the time. As a factual matter, the senator is a Maverick in Name Only.
I’m more than happy to give McCain credit for standing up in support of American principles, rhetorically defying a president of his own party, but his posture is clearly incomplete. McCain’s boldness ends when the voting in the Senate begins.
… 16 years ago, McCain was an actual maverick – voting against key Republican priorities, including the Bush/Cheney tax cuts – so it’s not as if we’re lacking a credible point of comparison.
And yet, much of the political world seems inclined to credit McCain for resisting Trump’s more outlandish excesses, even though McCain isn’t following through when it counts. Worse, there are Democrats trying to get attention for the fact that they’re actually resisting Trump both rhetorically and legislatively. It creates a dynamic in which voters are led to believe McCain’s verbal rebukes matter far more than more substantive Democratic opposition, which paints an outrageously misleading picture.
Maybe this will change in the coming months. Perhaps McCain will soon start breaking with his party, leveraging the power that senators in the majority have in a 52–48 chamber, and forcing real changes. Maybe McCain’s concerns will become more substantive and meaningful. There’s a fair amount of power in the senator’s hands, and it’s possible he’ll starting using it in constructive ways.
But in 2013, I wrote, “Every few years, we’re greeted with a fresh round of ‘Maybe the Maverick is back!’ headlines. As you may have noticed, they don’t last.”
This time could be different, but given McCain’s recent voting record, I wouldn’t count on it.
The confirmations of Trump’s egregious cabinet picks have proceeded along party lines, so we have here evidence of McCain supporting Trump where it really matters. DeVos –> Education. Price –> HHS. Pruitt –> EPA. Sessions –> Justice. Perry –> Energy. That’s a list of bad actors with a mandate to shrink or destroy the agencies they are supposed to support and defend. McCain rightly deserves credit for his defense of a free press. But he and the rest of the Republican Senators deserve blame for what will happen next in each of those agencies.