Jewish World Review Feb. 14, 2001 / 21 Shevat 5761
McCain won't run against Bush
again, just differ on issues
SEN. John McCain (R-Ariz.) denies in near Sherman terms that
he'll ever challenge President Bush or run again for president.
McCain told me he wishes Bush only the best. But it looks like
he'll remain a constant irritant to the White House.
First it was about campaign finance reform. This week it's health
care. Soon it may be gun control. But the big test of whether
McCain will play on Bush's team probably will come over the core
issue of tax cuts.
McCain is holding up judgment on that for the moment. Aides
recall that he proposed smaller, more progressive tax cuts than
Bush's during the 2000 GOP primaries, but the Arizonan said in
an interview that the economic slowdown may justify a bigger
McCain's 2000 proposal was for $480 billion over 10 years with
benefits concentrated on those making under $70,000 per year.
Bush proposed $1.3 trillion - which has grown to $1.6 trillion
because new fiscal years are involved - with all brackets getting
a rate cut and highest-income taxpayers getting the most
"In harder economic times, it argues more for a tax cut," McCain
said. "I don't have a lot of problems with what [the Bush team]
proposes. I may have some differences in priority. It depends on
who gets it and under what circumstances than the size of it."
"I certainly have modified my view" because the economy is no
longer "overheated," he said. "But whether I'm completely on
board with their [proposal], I just want to see it before I make a
This sounds as if McCain ultimately might object to the
distribution of Bush's cuts. McCain's aides say he certainly will
resist efforts on K Street to add major corporate tax breaks to
the Bush bill.
Asked how Bush is performing as president so far, McCain said,
"I think he's doing fine, just fine. I may have some nuanced
differences, but I think having education as the first thing out
of the box and reaching out are the right things. I think he's had
a wonderful opening couple of weeks."
McCain is said to think that his problems lie not so much with
Bush himself as with Bush aides, particularly top White House
aide Karl Rove, who, as a result of the primary campaign, "still
don't like John McCain."
McCain allies say he "doesn't understand why there's such
resentment" toward him at the White House, "since they won
and he lost." McCain reportedly calls Bush aides who criticize
him "sore winners."
McCain's allies said he believes that Rove's effort to dissuade
GOP Reps. Greg Ganske (Iowa) and Charlie Norwood (Ga.) from
cosponsoring his patients' rights bill made the proposal's
unveiling Tuesday "a much bigger deal than it needed to be."
Norwood agreed to hold off sponsoring the measure, but Ganske
did not. McCain said the White House never asked him to delay
even though it was known that he was negotiating with
Democrats on the bill.
Bush aides say the President has both substantive and timing
problems with the legislation, sponsored in the Senate by
McCain, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. John
Edwards (D-N.C.), and in the House by Ganske and Rep. John
Bush wants to introduce his own patients' rights bill at a time of
his choosing, believing that the McCain-Kennedy bill will raise
health insurance premiums by failing to adequately cap damage
awards in lawsuits against HMOs.
McCain and Ganske, in separate interviews, said 33 states
already have laws limiting damages and that their bill respects
those laws, while setting a $5 million cap for federal suits. Bush
favors Texas' cap of $750,000 on punitive damages.
"I remain in a cordial relationship with George Bush and I'm
committed to that," McCain contends. A staffer pointed out
that in Europe last week McCain argued for Bush's national
missile defense idea. Also, McCain agrees with Bush that there
should be a Social Security reform commission. "That was
McCain's idea," a staffer said.
Still, McCain is causing heartburn at the White House by pushing
campaign finance reform to the front of the agenda and may
also seek early passage of a bill requiring background checks at
gun shows - a measure Bush supports, but probably doesn't
consider a top priority.
"I'm not going to get confrontational with Bush," McCain said.
"You're not going to see me trying to embarrass this
administration. But I also have to balance that with
[advocating] things I was committed to long before he was
Asked about fears expressed by some Bush loyalists that McCain
would run against him in 2004 if he looked vulnerable, McCain
said, "That would be foolish on my part. History shows that
taking on an incumbent president is a fool's errand.
"I really feel I had my run at it. I have no contemplation of
running for president again, none whatsoever. I fully anticipate
campaigning for the re-election of George Bush."
So has he ruled out in his mind ever running for president again?
"Oh, yeah," he said.
Does he absolutely rule out running against Bush? "Absolutely,"
he said. That should give the White House some peace, but it
JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments by clicking here.
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