Obama, McCain: Rivals to partners
WASHINGTON — There was no conciliatory phone call, no heart-to-heart talk to soothe the tensions. No one knows exactly when President Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain went from bitter rivals in the 2008 presidential campaign and foes over health care and national security to bipartisan partners.
Yet in recent months, an alignment on high-profile domestic issues — not to mention an eye on their respective legacies — has transformed Obama and McCain into Washington's most unexpected odd couple. The Arizona senator is a regular visitor to the West Wing and in near-daily contact with senior White House officials.
McCain, in an Associated Press interview, said that he and Obama “trust each other.” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, among the Obama advisers who speak regularly with McCain, praised the lawmaker as a “refreshing” partner who “welcomes a debate and welcomes action.”
Like any good business arrangement in the nation's capital, the secret to the new Obama-McCain alliance ultimately comes down to this: Both sides believe that working together is mutually beneficial and carries little political risk.
For Obama, the senator has become a rare Republican backer of important elements on the president's second-term agenda, including immigration overhaul, stricter background checks for gun buyers and perhaps a fall budget deal.
In return, McCain has secured increased access to the White House and an opportunity to redeem his reputation as a Capitol Hill “maverick.” That image was tainted when McCain tacked to the right during his failed 2008 presidential run against Obama.
“I've told the people of Arizona, I will work with any president if there are ways I can better serve Arizona and the country,” McCain said. “That seems to be an old-fashioned notion, but it's the case.”
Indeed, the level of attention lavished on a functional working relationship between the Democratic president and the Republican senator underscores how rare such partnerships have been during Obama's tenure.