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February 01, 2008

Flashback: McCain's Negotiations to Quit the GOP and Join the Democratic Party

Democrats say McCain nearly abandoned GOP

By Bob Cusack

Posted: 03/28/07 07:39 PM [ET]

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was close to leaving the Republican Party in 2001, weeks before then-Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) famously announced his decision to become an Independent, according to former Democratic lawmakers who say they were involved in the discussions.

In interviews with The Hill this month, former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and ex-Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) said there were nearly two months of talks with the maverick lawmaker following an approach by John Weaver, McCain’s chief political strategist.

Democrats had contacted Jeffords and then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) in the early months of 2001 about switching parties, but in McCain’s case, they said, it was McCain’s top strategist who came to them.

At the end of their March 31, 2001 lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Bethesda, Md., Downey said Weaver asked why Democrats hadn’t asked McCain to switch parties.

Downey, a well-connected lobbyist, said he was stunned.

“You’re really wondering?” Downey said he told Weaver. “What do you mean you’re wondering?”

“Well, if the right people asked him,” Weaver said, according to Downey, adding that he responded, “The calls will be made. Who do you want?” Weaver this week said he did have lunch with Downey that spring, pointing out that he and Downey “are very good friends.”

He claims, however, that Downey is grossly mischaracterizing their exchange: “We certainly didn’t discuss in any detail about the senator’s political plans and any discussion about party-switchers, generically, would have been limited to the idle gossip which was all around the city about the [Democrats’] aggressive approach about getting any GOP senator to switch in order to gain the majority. Nothing more or less than that.”

Downey said Weaver is well aware that their discussion was much more than typical Washington chit-chat.

“Within seconds” of arriving home from his lunch with Weaver, Downey said he was on the phone to the most powerful Democrats in town. One of the first calls he made was to then-Senate Minority Leader Daschle.

“I did take the call from Tom [Downey],” Daschle said in an interview. “It was Weaver’s comment” to Downey that started the McCain talks, he added.

Daschle noted that McCain at that time was frustrated with the Bush administration as a result of his loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 Republican primary.

Daschle said that throughout April and May of 2001, he and McCain “had meetings and conversations on the floor and in his office, I think in mine as well, about how we would do it, what the conditions would be. We talked about committees and his seniority … [A lot of issues] were on the table.”

Absolutely not so, according to McCain. In a statement released by his campaign, McCain said, “As I said in 2001, I never considered leaving the Republican Party, period.”

Maverick.

I don't think these guys are lying. And I imagine they have diaries and scheduling books and the like which, while not quite proving they're telling the truth (they could be forgeries, etc.), will pretty much prove that McCain is lying.

Guess when that documentary evidence will make it to the press?

Pretty cool h/t on this: Mark "The Great One" Levin.

Apparently this is flying around all over the place because a lefty guy I know just got it, too.

UPDATE: Jack M. This is one of those occasions where I can offer first hand confirmation as to the essential truth of this story. I can't offer it from the Democratic side, as I have no idea what the nature of McCain's discussions were with Daschle, et. al. I was privy, however, to discussions with John Weaver during the time-frame in question.

Weaver has a public quote that gained some prominence. I'll look for it later, and link it if I can find it. Some reporter asked him (I think it was in 2002) about the candidates who he was now representing since he switched from a registered Republican to Democrat. Weaver's response was essentially "all of my clients are Democrats". The reporter, surprised, prompted Weaver with the reminder "and John McCain" to which Weaver responded "oh yeah...right."

Why is this important? Well for one it illustrates the mind-set of those closest to McCain at a time contemporaneous to the period all these discussions were taking place. Clearly, in the minds of many in McCain's inner circle, he was a Democrat regardless of what letter followed his name on the C-Span graphic.

But many of you will say "Jack, you are gonna take the word of Daschle, Edwards, blah, blah, blah?."

No. I'm going to tell you why I believe these allegations. Because John Weaver told me this personally.

One of my former bosses in the Senate served on a Committee with McCain at the time. He also had a friendship with Weaver that preceded his election to the Senate. For that matter, so did I.

And while McCain's threat was making the rounds, we had discussions in my bosses office about how to capitalize on it if McCain made the jump. We saw opportunities to move up on certain committees that we might not otherwise have had the seniority to attain. Why did we take this so seriously? Because Weaver, when asked, did nothing to disabuse any of us of this "rumor."

Jeffords' jump really caught most people in both parties off guard. As I remember it, he jumped because he was upset that the Bush administration wouldn't fund some education program at the level Jumpin' Jim wanted. At the time, nobody spent much time worrying about anything Jim Jeffords was up to. But Jeffords was hearing the same rumors too. In talking to some of his staffers in the wake of the jump, one of the things I was told was that Jeffords was motivated to do it at the time he chose, because he was convinced that if McCain jumped first, nobody would care about the reasons Jeffords was offering for switching.

Which makes this story sadly ironic in a way. I remain convinced that had Mr. Irrelevant, Jim Jeffords, not jumped, and had his moment of glory for staging the one-man Senate coup, John McCain would have done so. And the GOP would not now be considering nominating him as the standard bearer.

So, if McCain can convince the country to elect him President, he'll have Jim Jeffords, and his desire to beat McCain to the punch, to thank.

Which doesn't make me feel any better about the prospect of a McCain nomination.


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