Sen. John McCain (right) was criticized Thursday for suggesting that activists against a House GOP debt plan are being inflexible. The Arizona Republican was just speaking his mind, his Senate colleagues said.
Commenters on her page were slanted against McCain, calling him a "RINO."
McCain was unavailable for comment, but his spokesman, Brian Rogers, said the Senator did not set out to target the tea party. Rogers said his boss's speech was to target Members who have, in McCain's view, unrealistically and unfairly argued that Boehner's debt ceiling legislation should be defeated because victory on the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, which includes a proposal for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, was possible. Constitutional amendments require 67 votes to clear the Senate; the support of 20 Democrats would be needed if all 47 Republicans were onboard.
Rogers noted that McCain delivered a similar floor address in early July. The recent speech perhaps received more attention because of McCain's decision to quote from a Wall Street Journal editorial that compared tea party lawmakers to hobbits from J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and asserted that similar inflexible thinking led in 2010 to the nomination of Angle and O'Donnell, possibly costing the Republicans a chance at flipping the chamber.
"He is frustrated that we can't seem to find an agreement here," Rogers said. "We have a responsibility to be honest with the American people. The Senate is not going to pass a balanced budget amendment; it's not going to happen."
Others noted that McCain was advocating for Boehner's no-tax-increases debt plan and that the Senator himself has refused to bend on this issue or support President Barack Obama's call for a "balanced approach" throughout this debate.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a member of the Senate's Tea Party Caucus, tweeted after McCain's speech: "To those referring to 'Tea Party hobbits.' I'd rather be a hobbit than a troll."
Otherwise, the reaction among Senate Republicans was muted — even among tea party conservatives. Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) laughed off McCain's speech, saying: "That's just John. That's the way he is." Sen. Mike Lee, co-chairman of the Tea Party Caucus, said there are no hard feelings.
"One thing I've always respected about John McCain is that, even when I disagree with him, I've respected his willingness to stand his ground and to voice disagreement," the Utah Republican said. "I've always appreciated and respected his willingness to stand up for what he believes in, even when that involves disagreeing with his colleagues, even within his own party."
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said his colleague shares the views of the Republican Conference and was defending Boehner's debt plan as the best possible outcome for Republicans and the country, on the grounds that the borrowing limit must be raised by Aug. 2 to avoid negative economic fallout.