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Daschle recalls McCain wanting to leave GOP

Former Democratic majority leader Tom Daschle talked to CNN's Dana Bash about how the late Sen. John McCain once considered leaving the Republican Party to caucus with Democrats.

Posted: Aug 28, 2018 9:06 AM
Updated: Aug 28, 2018 9:40 AM

The late Sen. John McCain is remembered for his decades-long tenure serving as a maverick Republican in the Senate, but former Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle recalled to CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash how the Arizona senator nearly went so far as to leave the party and caucus with Democrats.

McCain, who died Saturday at 81, began negotiations to break from the GOP following his failed 2000 presidential run amid efforts by both Republicans and Democrats to gain the majority in an evenly split, 50/50 Senate.

"It was after the election. Of course, we went through a very tumultuous period when we weren't sure just how this is all going to sort out. And if you recall, we were -- it was the first 50/50 Senate. And so, we were trying to figure out how you govern with a 50/50 Senate," Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat who became Senate majority leader in 2001, said in September 2017.

In 2001, The Washington Post detailed the rifts between McCain's camp and George W. Bush's team. McCain thought Bush authorized political attacks against his Vietnam War credentials and social values, including a malicious rumor about his adopted daughter. McCain's team also thought they were being prevented from getting jobs in the Bush administration.

"I think he was upset because I think he thought the primary process was very, in some ways even painful, very frustrating, didn't think he was dealt with fairly. It started with that, but I think there were also some personality issues within the caucus itself," Daschle said.

"And almost immediately, there were overtures on both sides. [Republican Sen.] Trent Lott was reaching out ... to Democrats, and I was reaching out to Republicans. And we had picked up that there was a lot of frustration that John was feeling," he added.

Daschle said conversations about leaving the party happened in plain sight, and that McCain left the option open to caucus with Democrats. The negotiations got as far as discussing committee roles and assignments.

"We primarily talked on the floor. The office would have been too transparent," he said.

The former Democratic senator emphasized that if McCain would have left the Republican Party, he would not adopt Democratic policy positions, saying that he didn't think McCain "was going to renounce his philosophy, his party, as much as he was going to be an independent caucusing with the Democrats if that could be arranged."

However, the effort to pull McCain away from the GOP halted when then-Republican Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords pivoted to caucus with the Democrats in May 2001, giving Democrats more influence in the Senate.

Daschle said that amid a media frenzy over rumors that McCain would still jump ship, McCain invited him to a long weekend visit to his Arizona home -- even though the two knew the effort to make him an Independent had come to a stop. Daschle took him up on the offer that June.

"It was really one of the most enjoyable weekends I think I had as leader," Daschle said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

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Confirmed Cases: 94573

Reported Deaths: 2870
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7032159
DeSoto547759
Harrison380573
Jackson343069
Madison323386
Rankin322577
Lee265468
Jones245279
Forrest242571
Washington219772
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Lamar165534
Neshoba1556104
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Leflore138381
Pontotoc124916
Pike122450
Monroe120768
Scott117126
Copiah116633
Coahoma114428
Holmes109558
Marshall108516
Lincoln107553
Grenada107236
Yazoo104630
Simpson101844
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Newton76723
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George75913
Winston73519
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Tishomingo66738
Tippah65417
Attala65325
Walthall59525
Clay58518
Hancock57221
Clarke57045
Jasper56215
Noxubee54616
Smith52914
Calhoun50812
Tunica48213
Claiborne45916
Montgomery45820
Lawrence42912
Yalobusha42314
Perry41618
Humphreys37515
Quitman3735
Stone36512
Greene35917
Jefferson Davis33511
Webster33313
Amite32110
Carroll31412
Wilkinson30218
Kemper28815
Sharkey26513
Jefferson2449
Benton2232
Franklin1923
Choctaw1816
Issaquena1043
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 132452

Reported Deaths: 2335
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19306349
Mobile13233291
Montgomery8748177
Madison770978
Tuscaloosa7418116
Lee579261
Shelby578750
Baldwin514149
Marshall389244
Etowah340247
Calhoun340140
Morgan323926
Houston276423
Elmore259647
DeKalb237519
St. Clair226337
Walker225383
Talladega210628
Limestone203319
Cullman186818
Dallas175926
Franklin175229
Russell17322
Autauga171525
Lauderdale167333
Colbert162926
Blount158015
Escambia157725
Jackson154011
Chilton152431
Dale134644
Covington133427
Coffee12988
Pike11799
Chambers114442
Tallapoosa113885
Clarke107017
Marion95429
Butler91139
Barbour8517
Winston71812
Marengo70519
Lowndes65227
Pickens64514
Bibb63810
Randolph62713
Hale61928
Lawrence60522
Bullock59714
Geneva5864
Cherokee58315
Monroe5808
Clay5547
Washington55113
Perry5396
Conecuh53011
Wilcox53011
Crenshaw52732
Henry4835
Macon47920
Fayette4358
Sumter43219
Lamar3572
Choctaw34412
Cleburne3356
Greene30315
Coosa1673
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