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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Cases: 248189

Reported Deaths: 5411
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto16841171
Hinds15890312
Harrison13037191
Rankin10439205
Jackson10128177
Lee8721135
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Jones6166108
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George197438
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Holmes167867
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Clay156732
Stone140218
Tallahatchie138234
Clarke136460
Calhoun133321
Smith118823
Yalobusha113834
Walthall111136
Noxubee109622
Greene108929
Montgomery108134
Carroll103721
Lawrence101217
Perry99131
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Webster90624
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Tunica84521
Jefferson Davis83825
Humphreys81524
Benton80323
Kemper75720
Quitman6758
Franklin65315
Choctaw59613
Wilkinson58125
Jefferson53019
Sharkey42417
Issaquena1586
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 417528

Reported Deaths: 6030
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson61313888
Mobile29768542
Madison26637185
Tuscaloosa20580268
Montgomery18696304
Shelby18310113
Baldwin16002179
Lee12261101
Morgan12093112
Etowah11604157
Calhoun10982200
Marshall10108107
Houston8474129
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Limestone790174
Elmore7723101
DeKalb764697
St. Clair7460120
Lauderdale745183
Talladega6102108
Walker5852174
Jackson574441
Blount526483
Colbert525670
Autauga510355
Coffee434256
Dale391081
Franklin363445
Chilton333565
Covington326167
Russell323810
Escambia312442
Dallas300296
Clarke278233
Chambers277869
Tallapoosa2599107
Pike245829
Marion240549
Lawrence240447
Winston223835
Bibb213047
Geneva197431
Marengo197329
Pickens195231
Hale173742
Barbour171236
Butler167958
Fayette166026
Cherokee159630
Henry151119
Monroe144417
Randolph138535
Washington136526
Clay125246
Crenshaw118044
Lamar116619
Cleburne116023
Macon113335
Lowndes108735
Wilcox101221
Bullock98128
Perry95419
Conecuh92920
Sumter88726
Greene75323
Coosa60414
Choctaw51224
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