Immigration, Filibuster Reform: John McCain is the Unlikely Champion of Compromise

ByGabriel Grand

In today's bitterly divided political climate, engineering a bipartisan agreement in the Senate is harder than getting two toddlers to share an ice cream cone on a steaming summer day.

Nevertheless, a compromise is exactly what the Senate reached on Tuesday, and one senator in particular seems to have stepped forward as an unlikely father figure to put an end to the bickering. The mediator in question is Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Over the course of the past few days, McCain brokered a deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that smoothed the way for the Senate to approve seven of President Obama's executive branch nominees. In doing so, Republicans managed to sidestep — at least for the time being — Senator Reid's contentious "nuclear option," which would have changed the Senate's filibuster rules to allow Democrats to break a Republican filibuster with fewer votes.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Reid effused praise for McCain. "John McCain is the reason we're at the point we are. This is all directed toward John McCain from me. No one was able to break through but for him, and he does it at his own peril."

USA Today reports that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who also helped to negotiate the compromise, "echoed Reid's praise of McCain." Schumer told the press that he and McCain had spoken at least 30 times over the course of the weekend and continued to work together on Monday evening after a rare closed-door full Senate meeting failed to produce an agreement.

"I think both leaders saw, and everybody saw, that we were so close that it would be a shame to have an Armageddon, if you will, when we were so close," remarked Schumer. "It's good for the Senate, and hopefully it paves the way for continued and more bipartisan cooperation in the Senate. We walk up to the brink, but we get there."

Both McCain and Schumer were members of the much-praised "Gang of Eight," the bipartisan group of senators that forged the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill.

READ: 6 Things You Need to Know About the Senate's Immigration Reform Bill

McCain's role as a broker of compromise in the Senate comes as no small surprise, given the senator's history as a spokesman for divisive right-wing policy. In 2010, McCain vigorously opposed the military's repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," prompting a Washington Post writer to observe, "Since losing to Obama in the 2008 election, McCain has become a consistent critic of the president."

There have been other times in McCain's long political career when the senator has blatantly spited the left. As a congressman in 1983, he voted against the creation of a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., even as a majority of his fellow Republican representatives in the house supported MLK day (McCain later expressed regret over his decision).

Could these latest bipartisan agreements be a sign that McCain is finally coming around to the reality that compromise is necessary component of politics?

A senior Senate Democratic aide told the McClatchy Washington Bureau on Tuesday, "McCain decided he was sick of gridlock and brokered a deal to keep this place functioning."

Given this Congress' recent struggle to address pressing issues like student loans, the debt ceiling, the fiscal cliff, and the farm bill, I, too, am willing to settle for "functioning."

Gabe Grand is an editorialist for PolicyMic.

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