Just days before the early August vote to raise the debt ceiling — with partisan tensions running high — McCain forcefully urged Portman to act like a Senate veteran and take a more prominent leadership role on budget matters. The private 15-minute conversation occurred as the two exited the weekly GOP Conference lunch and walked back to their respective offices, and it happened the day after McCain delivered a stinging critique of the tea party on the Senate floor.
“He’s been encouraging me to use my background to try to promote fiscally conservative positions, which I’m doing,” Portman said. “I really appreciate him and the role he continues to play as a senior statesman. He could be sitting back and kind of allowing the legislative process to move on without him. As you know he’s very aggressive, very assertive. It’s good for the Conference and good for our country.”
McCain noted, “I don’t know anybody who knows the numbers and has the vision that Rob Portman has.”
Portman said McCain’s background as a former Republican presidential nominee, his military experience and his longevity in the Senate make him uniquely suited to the role of pushing and encouraging promising young Members.
McCain said that, in addition to Portman, he also sees freshman Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) as Members with great potential.
Graham, now approaching a decade in the Senate, said McCain’s tutelage offered him opportunities to get involved in legislation that would be taken seriously because of the Arizona Republican’s stature. He also said he appreciated being able to develop a personal relationship with a key Member in a chamber that runs on such connections. Graham predicted that Portman would benefit similarly.
“What turned into trying to help me understand the Senate and get involved in legislative issues turned into a real friendship. ... The body is a very personal, relationship-driven body,” Graham said. “Rob has unlimited potential, and John is seen by our Conference as someone who is listened to when he talks, and anything that Rob and John can do together is going to increase the likelihood of passage of that particular piece of legislation.”