Blitzer baselessly promoted McCain, Graham as “a little bit of mavericks”

CNN's Wolf Blitzer said of Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, “many would regard them [as] a little bit of mavericks.” Despite McCain's widely held reputation for being willing to diverge from President Bush, Media Matters has repeatedly documented instances in which McCain has supported President Bush or changed his position to support Bush; the same is true of Graham.

On the November 13 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer said of Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), “many would regard them [as] a little bit of mavericks.” As Media Matters for America has documented, many media figures, including MSNBC host Chris Matthews, National Journal's The Hotline editor in chief Chuck Todd, and Wall Street Journal national political editor John Harwood, have promoted the perception that McCain is a “maverick” -- a Republican politician willing to oppose the president and the party on major issues. However, Media Matters has documented numerous instances in which McCain has supported President Bush or changed his position to support Bush. Media Matters has similarly documented that Graham's purported independence has been primarily based upon his work on issues related to military tribunals and detainee treatment, but his work on those issues has also ultimately aided Bush.

As Media Matters noted, McCain reversed his position on Bush's 2003 tax cuts -- in February, McCain voted to extend Bush's 2003 tax cuts on dividends and capital gains, which McCain had long opposed, saying they exacerbated the budget deficit. Similarly, as Media Matters also noted, McCain told the Associated Press in December 2004 that he had a differing view from Bush on the leadership of outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, saying he had “no confidence” in Rumsfeld. But The Hill newspaper reported in April 2006 that McCain deferred to Bush by not recommending that Rumsfeld resign and by stating instead that the decision on removing Rumsfeld was Bush's alone.

Moreover, as Media Matters documented, an October 31 Fortune article noted that McCain recently said he is a " 'strong' ethanol supporter" despite having stated in June 2005 that ethanol mandates are “harmful” and “will result in higher gasoline costs for states.” Fortune senior writer Jon Birger described McCain's earlier opposition to ethanol as “reasonable ... for a senator from a nonfarm state like Arizona” and added that his opposition “may even fly for a presidential candidate running as a straight-shooting maverick, as McCain did in 2000. But for a front-runner -- one presumably interested in getting his as-yet-undeclared 2008 Republican presidential campaign off to a winning start -- opposing ethanol is political lunacy.” On the November 12 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, McCain claimed he had not shifted his stance, saying: “I'm not embracing ethanol. I said when oil is $10 a barrel, ethanol doesn't make much sense. When it's $40 a barrel, it does make sense.” About his June 2005 statement, McCain said: “I don't think I said that at $60 a barrel. I said it when it was $10 a barrel or $9 a barrel.” However, the Fortune article specifically reported that when McCain issued his June 2005 statement attacking ethanol, oil prices had pushed past $50 per barrel -- which as Fortune pointed out, is more than $10 beyond the threshold at which McCain claimed ethanol “does make sense.”

Additionally, McCain, Graham, and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) reached a supposed “compromise” on the Military Commissions Act of 2006 with the Bush administration. As Media Matters noted, the “compromise” appears to have involved few concessions from the administration, while apparently allowing the president to eliminate almost all independent oversight of the administration's detainee programs. As columnist Dan Froomkin wrote in his September 22 online column, “On the central issue of whether the CIA should continue using interrogation methods on suspected terrorists that many say constitute torture, the White House got its way, winning agreement from the 'maverick' Republican senators. ... The 'compromise'? The Republican senators essentially agreed to look the other way.”

Similarly, as Media Matters noted, Graham aided the White House on the issue of detainee rights in 2005. Graham proposed an amendment to deny Guantánamo Bay detainees the right to file habeas corpus petitions in federal court, which the Senate approved by a vote of 49-42. The White House had reportedly “signaled support for the plan” and its passage was considered a “significant victory for the Bush administration, which has argued that suspected enemy combatants overseas cannot challenge their confinement in U.S. courts,” according to The Washington Post. Later, Graham and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) filed a Supreme Court amicus brief siding with the Bush administration and arguing that the Detainee Treatment Act stripped the court of jurisdiction in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the case in which the Supreme Court struck down the Bush administration's use of military tribunals to try the detainees held at Guantánamo Bay.

From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the November 13 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: We've now confirmed that Rudy Giuliani [R], the former mayor of New York, is creating this exploratory committee, filing the paperwork to run for president, to start raising money. John McCain expected to do that very soon as well on the Republican side. The former -- the Iowa governor, Tom Vilsack, the current governor, he's already announced he's doing that on the Democratic side. Are you surprised that these -- these guys are doing it so quickly after this election?

COHEN: Not really. I think the race has already started. No one wants to be a Beetlebomb, coming out at the very end of this particular race. So they're all kind of lining up. And I think they also want to make sure that they're sending a signal to potential fundraisers: “Don't just commit to one candidate.” Senator McCain is very likely to declare early next year, I believe. And if he does, he's going to draw a lot of financial support. I think Rudy Giuliani wants to say, “Wait a minute. It's not a one-man race, or a one-horse race. And so let's put this committee together and see what we can do as well.”

BLITZER: It's interesting that Senator McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans, many would regard them a little bit of mavericks. They're both saying to win in Iraq, the United States has to deploy many, many more troops. Instead of starting to withdraw troops, more troops, thousands more troops have to be deployed. What do you make of this?