John McCain has managed to be one of the most and least consistent politicians in a generation. He’s been in the Senate since the latter days of the Reagan Administration, and the whole time he has been an outspoken conservative. When he ran for President in 2000, he had established himself as a straight talking maverick—someone who would buck the party line if it meant sticking to his beliefs, and who would ignore partisan boundaries in the name of good legislation.
That McCain, like the wild okapi, was spotted infrequently during the Bush years, but he tried to run on his maverick reputation as the Republican nominee in 2008, though at that point, there wasn’t much maverick-ness in the public’s recent memory on John McCain.
After an embarrassing defeat to Barack Obama in 2008 (it would have been less embarrassing with a different running mate), McCain joined his fellow Republicans in blocking everything they could from President Obama, joining the chorus on the right that had suddenly decided that government basically shouldn’t spend anything.
Now, at 76 and not a sure bet to run for office again, maverick McCain is back, both in word and deed. Here are five examples that prove it:
1) Immigration Reform
McCain, as both a Senate veteran and a senator from a border state, worked as an integral part of the bipartisan “gang of 8” that designed, refined and ultimately pushed immigration reform through the Senate. He has championed the effort and pressured Republicans in the House to pass a similar bill.
2) Banking Reform
Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) doesn’t have much in common politically with John McCain, but they both recognize that an unrelated banking sector ran roughshod over the economy, knowing that the federal government ultimately had its back whether it wanted to or not. That’s why McCain joined Warren and Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Angus King (I-Maine) in introducing the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act, which would reinstate a crucial provision from the 1930s, later struck down by Bill Clinton, to separate commercial banks from investment banks. Big banks do too much for the reelection efforts of both Democrats and Republicans for that bill to get anywhere, but McCain, who comes from an anti-regulation party, should be commended for joining with Democrats (and a liberal independent) on this legislation.
3) Resolving the confirmation battle
McCain was instrumental in talking Harry Reid (D-Nev.) down from the ledge of reforming filibuster rules due to Republican intransigence. Republican Senators are able to block Obama’s nominees from getting the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster, and Senate Majority Leader Reid was on the verge of making large changes to the Senate rules to allow up or down votes (which require a simple majority) because Republicans were blocking any nominee that they objected to, or whose role in government they objected to. The standoff ended with Senate rules intact and a set of seven Administration positions filled when McCain brokered a deal to vote those nominees through.
4) The fight against the Wacko Birds
It’s no secret that a powerful far-right wing of the Republican party now wields considerable force, especially within the House of Representatives (which just voted for the 40th, yes the 40th time to repeal Obamacare). These Republicans also have a foothold in the Senate, most visibly through Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). McCain made sure to stay in the Tea Party’s good graces in 2010, to avoid a primary challenger. No longer: McCain recently referred to Paul and Cruz and the rest of their flock as “wacko birds.” (Not to be outdone, supporters of Paul and Cruz started a website declaring their wacko bird pride.) The fight likely foreshadows a presidential battle between Paul and anti-wacko bird Chris Christie (with Marco Rubio delightedly looking like a centrist between them).
5) “A tough choice”
Proving that this wasn’t just idle rhetoric, McCain backed it up by telling the New Republic that if the 2016 Presidential election came down to Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Hillary Clinton, McCain would have “a tough choice.” Very few congresspeople on either side would be willing to say the same about a prominent member of their own party, even if they were thinking it. It’s that kind of outspokenness that shows that maverick McCain is back.