4 Times John McCain Went Maverick With His Jewish Friends

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — war hero, presidential candidate, force of nature — has brain cancer, his family said Wednesday night, and he is garnering well-wishes from across the spectrum.

More than a few are from Jews: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called McCain “A hero. A fighter. A friend.”

Norm Eisen, the ethics chief under President Barack Obama who has emerged as one of President Donald Trump’s fiercest critics, has worked in the past with McCain on lobbying reform. “Sending you ammo John: our prayers.”

Some of the most heartfelt wishes came from McCain’s colleagues on the other said of the Senate aisle, a rare display of comity in a polarized Washington, including from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and from Al Franken of Minnesota:

There was even a nod from actor Jason Alexander, the politically active alum of “Seinfeld”:

McCain, a maverick who has stubbornly resisted shifting political tides and who embraces an interventionist foreign policy rooted in an idea of America as a shining example to the world, has a natural affinity for Jews. He has been an ardent defender of Israel, visiting the country countless times, and joined pro-Israel centrists in leading opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. His 2008 campaign for the presidency was chockablock with Jewish advisers, particularly in the national security sphere.

Here are four times he has joined with Jews in bucking expectations:

McCain-Feingold, or approving the message

McCain joined with Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, then one of the most liberal Democrats, to keep corporate money out of campaign financing. Republicans hated the law — its first legal challenge was by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who is now the majority leader — and it eventually backfired. Banned from directly funding candidates, corporations exploited a loophole that allowed funding against candidates — and such so-called “soft money” was even harder to track. The Supreme Court in 2010 struck down key portions of McCain-Feingold as unconstitutionally impinging on free speech.

McCain-Feingold was so bogged down in acrimony and infighting, the cartoon series “Family Guy” made it a joke in 2010, featuring the bill as a laugh line that only irredeemably boring Washington insiders would get. It has one notable legacy: The “I’m Jane Doe and I approve this message” lines that tag political ads, designed to curb vituperation among candidates.

Quixotic? Yes. But the conservative, blue-talking southwestern Episcopalian and the soft-spoken Jew from Wisconsin remain friends, and Feingold was among McCain’s well-wishers on Wednesday.

Vice President Joe Lieberman, part II

McCain’s two closest friends in the Senate have been Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and Joe Lieberman, Democrat and then Independent of Connecticut. They advanced the robust foreign policy now out of fashion with Republicans with frequent visits to conflict zones, dubbing themselves the “Three Amigos.”

That “then Independent” in Lieberman’s biography is key. Lieberman and McCain were always close — like McCain, Lieberman remained a champion of the Iraq War long after other erstwhile backers changed their minds. But Lieberman’s defeat in the 2006 Democratic primary for his seat and his subsequent win as an Independent freed him to openly back McCain in the 2008 election, although he continued to caucus with Democrats.

McCain sorely wanted Lieberman as his running mate, but the Republican establishment — in the form of Karl Rove — fiercely resisted, saying he would be guaranteed to lose the election if he took on a Democrat in all but name. (So much for that: McCain’s eventual pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, pleased the base, but also likely was critical in driving away moderates and handing the election to Barack Obama.)

Lieberman had already made history in 2000 as the first Jewish candidate on a national ticket when Democratic nominee Al Gore chose him as his running mate. Had McCain prevailed, he would have made history again, as the first vice-presidential nominee to make the ticket for both parties.

Five liberal rabbis walk into a Republican’s office

McCain bucked the George W. Bush presidency in objecting to its sanction of torture in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. (He also has clashed with President Donald Trump on the issue.) It was personal for McCain: As a prisoner of war in Vietnam, he had been tortured, and the notion that his beloved country would embrace the practice struck him as unconscionable.

Among his partners in his quest to ban the practice? Rabbis for Human Rights (now T’ruah), which met with him in 2005. It wasn’t a mere courtesy meeting: The group briefed McCain on Israel’s Supreme Court 1999 ban on even “moderate physical pressure,” and the fact that Israel was able to combat terrorism without torture became a talking point for the senator.

Going kosher because, why not

McCain, speaking at an Israeli embassy event in 2012 honoring Lieberman, who was wrapping up his career as a senator, shocked the room by saying he was considering converting to Judaism. Not because he loved the faith’s practices, but because he had endured enough of them traveling with Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, that he figured he might as well.

He was joking, of course, but it was a memorable — and salty — evening, as our coverage described it atthe time:

Author

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. All readers can browse the comments, and all Forward subscribers can add to the conversation. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters or repeat offenders will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

4 Times John McCain Went Maverick With His Jewish Friends

Thank you!

This article has been sent!

Close