McCain’s Absence Leaves Big Hole in Senate

The sudden departure of Senator John McCain leaves a giant hole in the middle of the Republican Conference. On defense and foreign policy issues, McCain is among the loudest GOP voices, largely based on his own experience as a Vietnam War hero and prisoner of war.

Just a day after the stunning announcement that Senator John McCain has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and will be absent from Capitol Hill to receive treatment, the feisty Arizona Republican is vowing to return to the Senate quickly.

McCain’s health is critical for President Donald Trump and Senate GOP leaders, who suddenly find themselves in the position of needing McCain’s support very badly, despite the often combative relationship between the president and the 80-year-old McCain.

A hawkish interventionist utterly convinced of America’s undisputed place as the world’s leader, McCain has pushed to expand the U.S.’ presence overseas, not withdraw from it, which often put him in collision with the Trump-Bannon worldview. From Syria to ISIS to Iran to North Korea, McCain has pushed for hard-line U.S. policies, including military strikes if necessary.

On other controversial topics — Trump’s behavior, immigration, treatment of terrorism detainees, torture — McCain has been one of the few Republicans willing to speak out. Because of his own political stature, McCain has been able to say what other Republicans can’t or won’t.

“Well, John, as you know, is a bigger-than-life force around here on so many issues, and particularly national security issues,” noted Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Senate Republican. “I think that his absence is going to be felt. We’re going to miss him. We hope he gets back.”

With just 52 Republicans, not having McCain in place means Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell loses a dependable vote on advancing a repeal and replace of Obamacare, even as the Kentucky Republican vows to try to bring up the GOP health care bill early next week.

And McCain, as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, may not be able to oversee completion of the annual defense authorization bill, which had been expected to be taken up on the Senate floor as early next week.

The Pentagon, too, loses one of its biggest allies in Congress, although one who is not above bashing admirals and generals when he feels they deserve it. McCain has long supported getting rid of the 2011 budget caps and adding tens of billions of dollars to the defense budget. That’s in line with what Trump wants to do as well.

In a statement Wednesday, McCain vowed to return to the Senate as soon as possible and thanked all his well-wishers. “I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support — unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I’ll be back soon, so stand-by!” McCain said on Twitter.

Then McCain was, well, McCain. His office issued a statement bashing the Trump administration for reportedly deciding to end the program to arm the anti-Assad rebels in Syria, a move favored by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“If these reports are true, the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin,” McCain declared. “Making any concession to Russia, absent a broader strategy for Syria, is irresponsible and short-sighted.”

McCain also called some friends to tell them to stop worrying about him and get on with their jobs.




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