Did McCain Avoid Voting on a Key 9/11 Bill Because He's Afraid of the Neocons?

Election '08

Some of John McCain's best friends are Neocons. So much so that he signed a letter in 1998 to President Clinton, that among other things stated that "the only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq is able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction." So when John McCain tells you that 9/11 changed his way of thinking, unless he's referring to 9/11/98, chalk it up to more of that famous "straight-talk."

Other signatories of this letter included a cast of characters who would become infamous for doing foreign policy the way Lindsay Lohan does driving. Including: Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz. Yes, those geniuses.

So when, on March 13, 2007, he didn't show up to vote on the "Keeping America Secure Act," one had to wonder what kind of agenda he's really committed to. Whatever the merits of that piece of legislation, one might have expected McCain, who portrays himself as a staunch defender against future 9/11s, to at least debate the issue. Upon further inspection it gets even more fishy.

McCain had 16 votes that day. He made 15 of them. The only one he missed was the one to codify the 9/11 Commission recommendations. And coincidentally, of course, Neocons hated those recommendations, because they talked about meeting with the Iranians and Syrians, for example, instead of just blowing them up. The following excerpt from my new book, The Real McCain (PoliPoint Press, 2008) explains what went down.

Unlike George W. Bush, McCain could never be accused of being AWOL from the military. But an examination of his congressional voting record might earn him the tag AWOC, or "Absent Without Courage." For McCain has shown that when it comes to the tough votes, the ones requiring him to take a stand, he adheres to the ancient philosophy espoused by Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid: "Best defense, no be there."

Simply put, in the first session of the 110th Congress (2007), the senator from Arizona missed, by a wide margin, more votes than any of his Senate colleagues but one, Democrat Tim Johnson, who was sidelined with a serious brain hemorrhage.

According to the Washington Post database tracking Senate "vote missers," McCain had missed a whopping 261 of 468 votes, or almost 56 percent, by March 2008. McCain is understandably busy running for president -- and all the candidates running for that highest of offices in 2008 have shown a poor record in showing up for votes. But number of votes missed is one thing; which votes you miss is another. McCain the maverick has missed votes in a way that betrays a calculated strategy: namely, to avoid going on the record when doing so would be politically risky.

On March 13, 2007, a critical roll call vote was held in the Senate on the Improving America's Security Act, which codified implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations for protecting America. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were there. So were then presidential candidates senators Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Joe Biden of Delaware, and Sam Brownback of Kansas. Where was John McCain? According to his official calendar, he was in California for a series of big-money fundraisers.

Did Arizona's senior senator think a key vote on protecting America wasn't important enough to make? Could it be that McCain didn't want to go against the wishes of his party and be on the record -- with 38 other Republicans -- in opposing increased security for America? McCain was the only senator, other than Tim Johnson, to miss that vote.

McCain wasn't out of town on the presidential campaign trail but was instead practicing the art of selective voting -- the art of "no be there" -- on March 23. It was a busy legislative day that saw 16 roll call votes on the floor. McCain voted dependably, right down the party line, on fifteen of those proposed votes. One might surmise that the missed vote occurred early in the morning, before McCain got to the office, or late at night, after he'd left, maybe to attend a fundraiser or get a beer with Imus.

Wrong. The vote McCain missed that day occurred right in the middle of the legislative day and between two other votes for which he was present. The one he missed was for an amendment (Amdt. 529) to provide $1.2 billion for the highly successful COPS program, an initiative that gives "local law enforcement critical resources necessary to prevent and respond to violent crime and acts of terrorism." Perhaps the issues before and after the ducked vote were not as uncomfortable for McCain. Have a look at the vote timeline for the hour in question:

It's possible that Senator McCain just happened to be in the men's room or the Senate cafeteria when vote number 110 was held. Or maybe he didn't want to be on record as voting against a provision called the Improving America's Security Act. McCain, unlike his 33 colleagues, would have to stand by that vote as a presidential candidate in 2008.

McCain found a way to miss most of the important votes on Iraq in the first part of the 110th Congress. He even bailed on a critical Iraq war briefing by General David Petraeus on April 25, 2007, so that he could campaign in New Hampshire that day.

Yet his speeches suggest complete vigilance. "We must win in Iraq. We cannot fail," said McCain in a May 2006 speech to the Utah State Republican Convention. "If we lose in Iraq, they're coming after us. We will fight them somewhere else -- like here. It's all part of a gigantic, titanic struggle between good and evil." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took notice: "Senator McCain," Reid said through his spokesperson Liz Oxhorn in May 2007, "has spent considerable time defending the president on Iraq ... but has only managed to show up for four of the last fourteen Iraq votes."

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