On Hardball, Brokaw exaggerated McCain's independence from Bush

On Hardball, Tom Brokaw asserted that what makes Sen. John McCain “appealing” is that "[i]t's hard to track him. He's there with his arm around the president one moment and standing back and lobbing grenades then at the next minute." Brokaw made no mention of the fact that, while McCain has taken highly publicized stands against President Bush, he has also eventually capitulated in several of those instances.

On the December 4 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw claimed that “part of what makes [Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)] appealing” is that "[i]t's always hard to track him." Brokaw added that McCain is “there with his arm around the president one moment and standing back and lobbing grenades then at the next minute.” In fact, although McCain has taken highly publicized stands against President Bush's policies on torture and taxes, he has, in several instances, then fallen in line with Bush. NBC News' Campbell Brown, who was guest-hosting the program, also failed to note this tendency.

For example, McCain made headlines by voting against Bush's 2001 tax cut package, saying that “the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans” but, in 2006, when Congress was considering extending Bush's 2003 capital gains tax cuts, which mainly benefited the richest Americans, McCain voted with his Senate Republican colleagues to keep them on the books, as Media Matters for America noted.

Additionally, McCain and other senators reached a purported “compromise” with the Bush administration on the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that, as Media Matters noted, was criticized because it appeared to have elicited few concessions from the administration, while apparently allowing the president to conduct his detainee policy virtually independent of oversight.

As Media Matters has also documented, in late 2005, McCain sponsored an amendment to the defense authorization bill attempting to rein in the president's authority on the treatment of detainees by banning “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” While the White House agreed to support the amendment publicly, the administration issued a presidential "signing statement" that accompanied the bill, in which Bush made clear he did not interpret the act to restrict the president's authority, writing that the executive branch “shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief.” McCain initially objected, issuing a statement with other sponsors of the measure that promised “strict oversight to monitor the Administration's implementation of the new law,” but has since remained largely silent about the signing statement. In October, McCain told Hardball host Chris Matthews that he would “be one of the first to support going to the United States Supreme Court” if the president indicated through a signing statement that he was “not going to abide” by a law passed by Congress, but offered no explanation at that time for his failure to challenge Bush on that particular signing statement, and Matthews did not ask him to clarify.

From the December 4 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

BROKAW: Well, I think John McCain is the candidate to beat at this point. He is a -- he is a charismatic figure in American life. He's staked himself out there pretty far on Iraq by saying we've got to have more troops before we can have fewer troops there.

It's always hard to track him. He's there with his arm around the president one moment and standing back and lobbing grenades then at the next minute. That's what -- part of what makes him appealing.

Again, he'll run the risk of getting out front and everybody will be coming after him. The Republican Party primary is always a more difficult one to win in some regards than the Democrats' because it's a more narrowly cast one. And you have to go to that Republican base. And they have very strong feelings about a lot of issues.