Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made the latest in a series of Sunday show appearances yesterday, and CNN’s Candy Crowley noted that he seems to agree with President Obama about closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. “How can you help this president close Guantanamo Bay?” the host asked.
Listening to McCain’s response, he may have misunderstood the question.
“Well, first of all, the president continues to violate the law. He did in the Bergdahl case, which required notification of Congress. He just did on Cuba, that he continues to act in the most imperial fashion. And this was the president who ran on an open and transparent presidency. It’s very disappointing.”
I listened to this a few times, trying make heads or tails of it, but it’s just bizarre.
Even the most irate critics of the White House’s new Cuba policy haven’t accused the president of “violating the law.” McCain appears to have just made this up in a pique of partisan fury. Indeed, one hopes the senator will talk to his Republican colleagues – including his own home-state partner, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) – who’ve already endorsed Obama’s policy. Apparently they haven’t heard about its illegality.
It’s also odd to hear McCain use this as an example of Obama walking away from an “open and transparent presidency.” Obviously, sensitive international diplomacy requires a degree of secrecy, but the White House notified Congress of the president’s plans, and leading lawmakers knew about the shift in policy before the public.
So what in the world is McCain talking about? I think there are two things going on here.
The first is that McCain clearly wants to complain about the president’s policy, but apparently hasn’t figured out why. It’s understandably challenging – the Arizona Republican is already on record endorsing the same policy Obama is now pursuing.
Left without substantive talking points, McCain is apparently reduced to complaining about process, blasting the policy as “imperial” and insufficiently “transparent,” neither of which makes sense in context.
The second is a reminder about the danger of reflexive arguments. Republicans have become so accustomed to knee-jerk complaints about “Obama the tyrant” pursuing his agenda through extra-legal, dictatorial means that it becomes a stock answer to practically every question, whether it makes sense or not.
And to use McCain’s wording, that’s “very disappointing.” The fact remains that the president has the authority to shift U.S. foreign policy. Obama can’t scrap the Cuba embargo altogether – that would require congressional action – but the law allows him the leeway to change course after 54 years of failure, and so the president did exactly that.
No one, other than McCain, is seriously suggesting the change “violates the law,” and under the circumstances, it seems unlikely the senator himself agrees with his own rhetoric.
Nevertheless, McCain will become the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee next month, where he’ll hold any number of spirited hearings about the Obama administration’s foreign policy. The discussions probably won’t always be sensible, but at least they won’t be dull.