McCain's floor speech: We're getting nothing done and the bombastic loudmouths on TV and radio aren't helping

“Bombastic loudmouths”? Under the circumstances, you would think Maverick would have been prepared to name names. I suppose his intended targets are clear enough, though. They (and we) have been flaying him for the better part of a decade.

He got a hero’s welcome upon entering the Senate chamber today. Outside the chamber, it was rougher:

If you don’t want to watch his speech below, WaPo has a transcript. The bit about “bombastic loudmouths” wasn’t just a random shot; it was in service to his point that the Senate needs to cooperate more on legislation, and the first step to doing that is to ignore the hyperpartisans and return to regular order. Today was an odd day to make that plea, though, with Democrats dead set on protecting Obama’s health-care legacy. There’s not going to be any bipartisan package with the GOP that does anything to roll back ObamaCare’s signature regulations, which is another way of saying that the gridlock problem goes beyond loudmouths demagoging members on each side to prevent compromise. The parties have moved apart substantively on policy too. The left’s new favorite candidate, remember, was calling for tossing ObamaCare overboard in favor of a single-payer system last year.

This is a trenchant passage, obviously directed more at his own party than at Democrats:

We’re getting nothing done. All we’ve really done this year is confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Our healthcare insurance system is a mess. We all know it, those who support Obamacare and those who oppose it. Something has to be done. We Republicans have looked for a way to end it and replace it with something else without paying a terrible political price. We haven’t found it yet, and I’m not sure we will. All we’ve managed to do is make more popular a policy that wasn’t very popular when we started trying to get rid of it.

That has the sting of truth. It may not be overstating it to say it’s the GOP’s single biggest “accomplishment” on health care this year. As for Maverick, who sounds encouragingly spry here for a man of his age and condition, he’s getting mostly “lion in winter” praise from the press but some harder shots from young activists on the left and right. On the left they’re flogging him for having voted yes on today’s motion to proceed. Granted, he says in this speech that he doesn’t support the final bill as it currently stands (er, which bill is the final bill right now?) but he could have stopped the whole project dead in its tracks today by becoming the 51st vote against opening debate. For all of McCain’s hosannas here to regular order, he voted to advance a bill that’s the antithesis of that, written in secret, without committee hearings, and reportedly with considerable deception about its potential real-world effects. On the right, meanwhile, critics like Ben Shapiro note that the applause from Senate Democrats today about decorum and regular order tends not to translate into heeding McCain’s advice:

In fact, they were even when McCain was at his bipartisan best. The only reason McCain formed the so-called “Gang of 14” in 2005 was because Democrats threatened to filibuster Republican judicial nominees – a longtime no-no in the Senate. In 2010, when Democrats controlled the Senate, McCain proposed another “Gang of 14” to forestall Obamacare – and Democrats refused him outright. This is the problem with McCain’s viewpoint: return to regular order makes perfect sense in a vacuum, but it is unilateral disarmament when facing an unprincipled Democratic Party.

McCain’s call to ignore the “bombastic loudmouths on the radio” is also ridiculous – those “bombastic loudmouths” are responsible for Republican victories in the House, Senate, and White House. It’s elitism to suggest that Senators ignore the outcry from various public factions that object to the usual give and take of the Senate. McCain should offer an alternative to the bill being proposed so that we can debate it. The big problem here isn’t talk radio – it’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) hiding the contents of the new bill until 30 seconds before a vote. If McCain wants to worry about undermining the legitimacy of democratic institutions, he should start there.

Harry Reid cared so much about regular order in 2013 that he eliminated the minority’s power to filibuster non-SCOTUS presidential nominees. The president of the United States has called for ending the legislative filibuster several times over the past few months. We’re headed with ever greater velocity towards a Senate that’s pure power politics and less the careful, comity-minded deliberatively institution McCain glorifies. It’s a nice speech but it ain’t stopping that train.

Still, it was good to hear his “crusty voice” on the Senate floor again. If you’re wondering who’s preparing to take up the McCain mantle once he retires, read this and be left with no doubt. Flake’s coming after the “bombastic loudmouths” next — assuming they don’t manage to bump him off in a primary first, that is.