McCain seeks to rally party’s responsible remnant

WASHINGTON — The seemingly indestructible Sen. John McCain has returned to the U.S. Capitol after his latest treatments for brain cancer. He is reiterating the call he made, after voting to block the repeal of Obamacare, for the Senate to get back to “regular order” to resolve problems with the health care law and other critical matters.

It was a reference to his Republican Party’s failure to hold open, bipartisan committee hearings in drafting the repeal legislation. In an upbeat proposal in The Washington Post, the senior Arizona senator argued that “our shared values define us more than our differences,” and those values “can see us through our challenges today if we have the wisdom to trust in them again.”

McCain noted that the Congress returning from its summer recess was “facing continued gridlock as we lurch from one self-created crisis to another,” seemingly “convinced that majorities exist to impose their will with few concessions, and that minorities exist that prevent the party in power from doing anything important.”

He said the American system “requires pragmatic problem-solving from even the most passionate partisans. It relies on compromise between opposing sides to protect the interests we share.”

In a characteristic dig at the leader of his own party, with whom he is openly at war, McCain argued for renewed mutual respect. “That never has been truer than today, when Congress must govern with a president who has no experience of public office, is often poorly informed and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct,” he wrote.

Standing up for his legislative body, he went on: “We must respect (the president’s) authority and constitutional responsibilities. We must, where we can, cooperate with him. But we are not his subordinates. We don’t answer to him. We answer to the American people. We must be diligent in discharging our responsibility to serve as a check on his power. And we should value our identity as members of Congress more than our partisan affiliation.”

In a sense, McCain’s sharp remarks are a clarion call to fellow Republicans in Congress to end their generally tolerant attitude toward what many of them privately perceive to be a train wreck of a presidency, in the hands of an unfit Oval Office occupant.

McCain’s conspicuous role in derailing the Senate Republicans’ last-gasp effort to kill Obamacare has inevitably placed him in the forefront of a reluctant party effort to save itself from the damaging political ramifications of Trump’s singular seizure of the Grand Old Party.

It comes at a time when the returning Congress must deal with major budgetary considerations that could lead to another government shutdown, as well as with proposed tax and immigration reforms.

McCain reminded his colleagues that he had “argued during the health care debate for a return to regular order, letting committees of jurisdiction do the principal work of crafting legislation and letting the full Senate debate and amend their efforts.”

He went on: “We might not like the compromises regular order requires, but we can and must live with them if we are to find real and lasting solutions. All of us in Congress have the duty, in this sharply polarized atmosphere, to defend the necessity of compromise before the American public.”

McCain in his Washington Post appeal pleaded to his colleagues to “try that approach of a budget that realistically meets the nation’s critical needs” on defense spending, immigration, tax reform and infrastructure improvement.

All, he said, are “opportunities to show that ordinary, decent, free people can govern competently, respectfully and humbly, and to prove the value of the United States Congress to the great nation we serve.”

Affection in the Senate for the cancer-stricken McCain was clearly demonstrated in his return to cast the deciding vote against Obamacare repeal. But his cantankerous personal manner at times also was glaring to some colleagues.

Now, however, the personal behavior and erratic political leadership of Donald Trump have thrown the GOP into almost unprecedented unease approaching collective panic. John McCain’s conspicuous backbone may yet stiffen enough his fellow Republicans’ spines to arouse needed congressional resistance to Trump’s hostile takeover of a badly shaken party establishment.