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McCain Still Fighting 'Wacko Birds'

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
McCain has criticized fellow GOP senators for isolationist positions and attempts to cut foreign aid.

Sen. John McCain may have apologized for calling relative Senate newcomers Rand Paul and Ted Cruz “wacko birds,” but the Arizona Republican hasn’t given up fighting their isolationist position on U.S. foreign policy.

Paul and Cruz — from Kentucky and Texas, respectively — offered amendments during last week’s budget “vote-a-rama” with the aim of reducing foreign aid, a position that has begun to split their party. The amendment votes were tough by design, in part because they mixed popular sounding items with poison pills.

Every Democrat present voted against Paul’s symbolic effort in the wee hours of Saturday morning to allocate $16 billion for repair and replacement of structurally-deficient bridges and other domestic infrastructure projects through cuts to Energy Department loan guarantees and foreign aid spending.

McCain was one of 19 Republicans to vote against that amendment. He was joined by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and another frequent foreign aid defender, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte. All three senators also voted against an amendment offered by Cruz that was designed to reduce foreign assistance to Egypt in order to bankroll a missile defense system on the eastern seaboard of the United States.

Paul has shown he is not afraid to criticize his political opponents on foreign assistance spending. He went so far as to run campaign ads last year through his RAND PAC against Democrats who opposed his bid to restrict foreign aid to Libya, Pakistan and Egypt. One of those targets, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III, responded by holding a conference call with the typically hawkish Graham.

During that call, Graham told reporters that Paul was promoting a foreign policy stance that would help al-Qaida, because it would turn off the American aid spigot when terrorists attack embassies abroad.

After Paul led an unsuccessful, 13-hour filibuster against the nomination of John O. Brennan to head the CIA earlier this month, McCain complained that “wacko birds” like Paul, Cruz and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., always get “the media megaphone.” McCain has since apologized for using the phrase, but he has not recanted floor statements in which he said the basis for Paul’s filibuster — a demand for answers about the potential use of drones on American citizens on U.S. soil — “frankly ridiculous.”

Earlier in the week, McCain told reporters the disagreement on foreign policy has long been a feature of the GOP, recalling previous battles.

“On the issue of America’s role in the world? Oh, absolutely. That fight has been going on since prior to World War II,” McCain said. “It’s always been there, and it always will be. It’s exasperated and exaggerated by bad economic times.”

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