ABC’s Zeleny Prods McCain to Attack Fellow Republicans, Praise Chuck Schumer

There’s nothing liberal media members love more than a Republican who attacks other Republicans in front of the TV cameras. That probably explains the media’s rediscovered fascination with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 GOP presidential nominee. ABC’s Jeff Zeleny interviewed McCain last Friday for the ABC News / Yahoo News online series The Fine Print, and he used the veteran senator as a weapon against some of the younger, more conservative senators.

Zeleny set the tone right from his opening script, in which he proclaimed, “[McCain] is drawing sharp criticism from some of his new Republican colleagues, like Senator Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, but he’s throwing that criticism right back, saying they make him worry about the future of the Republican Party.”


Take that, freshman Republican senators! Of course, Zeleny didn’t admit it, but he is probably no fan of Sens. Cruz and Paul either. Midway through the interview, Zeleny prodded McCain to reveal his views on the new generation of Republican senators: “In recent years the turnover in the Senate has been really pretty extraordinary. More than half of the Senate is new. Is this good for the body?”

McCain admonished “the people who are pushing this Obamacare vs. government shutdown,” saying they were not around the last time the government shut down. He didn’t name any names, but Zeleny did, interjecting, “So Ted Cruz and Rand Paul weren’t here, and they didn’t benefit from that history.”

Later, Zeleny got even more direct with McCain: “Senator Cruz, Senator Paul. Would they be bad nominees for the Republican Party in 2016?” McCain hedged on his answer, saying that he was sure they would be “viable.”

Then, seemingly to cement McCain’s image as the good, moderate Republican, Zeleny asked him to describe his relationship with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). In contrast to his stern words for Cruz and Paul, McCain spoke warmly of the liberal from the Empire State: “Senator Schumer is a person who is as good as his word. His word is good.”

This attitude of criticizing Republicans and praising a Democrat apparently qualified McCain for at least one softball question. Zeleny began the interview with this softie: “Some people say the Straight Talk Express is fueled up and back in business. Is it?”

Imagine if McCain had gotten coverage this favorable during his 2008 bid for the presidency. He might have actually won the election. But back then, the liberal media did not see him as the voice of reason in the Republican Party. They saw him as the man running for the hated George W. Bush’s third term, and the obstacle in the way of the hope and change that Barack Obama was sure to bring. Now that McCain has begun criticizing the more conservative elements in his own party, liberal journalists love him more.

Below is a partial transcript of the interview [Read the article and watch the video here]:

JEFF ZELENY: Welcome to The Fine Print. I’m Jeff Zeleny. Today we catch up with Senator John McCain, who’s emerged as a new bridge builder between the White House and Congress. He’s drawing sharp criticism from some of his new Republican colleagues, like Senator Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, but he’s throwing that criticism right back, saying they make him worry about the future of the Republican party.

ZELENY: Senator McCain, thank you for joining us.

JOHN MCCAIN: Thanks, Jeff.

ZELENY: Some people say the Straight Talk Express is fueled up and back in business. Is it?

MCCAIN: I think it’s just a matter of issues as much as it is of behavior and I’m glad to join with a number of my colleagues to try to resolve some of the issues that are confronting us.

ZELENY: What does the crystal ball of Sen. McCain say will happen to immigration reform in the House?

MCCAIN: The crystal ball is a little cloudy because I think August is going to be a very seminal month. Members are back interacting with their constituents, and we see a coalition of evangelicals, of the Catholic church, of business, of labor, of small business, high-tech, across the board – support the likes of which I’ve never seen for one specific part of legislation. So I hope that that would then send my colleagues on the House side back with at least a willingness to move forward with legislation so we can go to conference.



ZELENY: You’ve said that doubling the border agents and throwing $40 billion at this was perhaps a bit of overkill.

MCCAIN: What the effort was to assure people that we would have sufficient border security but I am much more inclined to believe that technology will be the real key to securing our border.

ZELENY: In recent years the turnover in the Senate has been really pretty extraordinary. More than half of the Senate is new. Is this good for the body?

MCCAIN: I think it might be good to have a lot of fresh infusion as long as we keep some corporate memory. For example, the people who are pushing this Obamacare vs. government shutdown, none of them that I know were here the last time we saw that movie.

ZELENY: So Ted Cruz and Rand Paul weren’t here, and they didn’t benefit from that history.

MCCAIN: Yeah, so they need to do that. The other thing is I think that we really need to do is be careful the way we treat each other.

TED CRUZ: There are a lot of Republicans in Washington who are scared. They’re scared of being beaten up politically.

MCCAIN: Look, I have been as ferocious a fighter and as partisan, as strong as anybody, but I really try hard not to get personal. Debate on the issue as hard as you can, but don’t say that your opponents, the people who disagree with you are scared. It’s been a long time since I’ve been scared.

ZELENY: Senator Cruz, Senator Paul. Would they be bad nominees for the Republican Party in 2016?

MCCAIN: If that’s who the party chooses, I’m sure that that nominee will be viable. But I want to say in the strongest possible terms that if we fail on immigration reform, it won’t matter who our nominee is because of the polarization of the Hispanic vote, and that’s not why I’m for immigration reform, but it certainly is one of the consequences of a failure.

ZELENY: Some Republicans say, what is he doing hanging out with Senator Schumer?

MCCAIN: Well, Senator Schumer is a person who is as good as his word. His word is good. He reminds me, in a way, of the work that I used to do with Ted Kennedy.

ZELENY: Walk me through the relationship with Senator Schumer. You guys weren’t always close.

MCCAIN: We worked together on some border security and some other not-so-big issues, and we were about to have another nuclear option concerning the movement towards taking up legislation that Republicans were blocking, and he was one of the negotiators. And we were able to avert that cliff and then the work on immigration was weeks and weeks of constant meetings, and we continued conversations about trying to resolve this, quote, grand bargain, or at least address the issue of the sequestration, which in my view is devastating our national security.
 

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.