*Photo Credit: Time Magazine
Last Monday night, the National Constitution Center awarded the 2017 Liberty Medal to Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona). In his acceptance speech, Senator McCain reflected on the United States’ successes and involvement in the First and Second World Wars while contrasting these historical events with President Trump’s non-interventionist, “America First” foreign policy. This is nothing new; rather, the Liberty Medal speech is but another chapter in the escalating feud between President Trump and Senator John McCain.
Ultimately, this feud exposes the deep factions in the Republican Congress, leading to the little progress in fulfilling the President’s agenda. Congress has failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, pass a tax plan and develop comprehensive immigration reform. As a result, President Trump has been forced to implement executive orders to pursue his agenda. Executive orders are no substitute to legislation created by Congress, however, as a future president can easily reverse them.
Senator McCain is an extremely influential figure in Congress, having served over 20 years in the Senate. Throughout his long Senate tenure, McCain has worked with figures such as former Vice-President Joe Biden, who was in attendance for the Liberty Medal event. In McCain’s speech, he elaborated on their relationship: “we believed in our country’s indispensability to international peace and stability and to the progress of humanity.”
Next, McCain changed his tone to explain his frustration with Trump’s non-interventionist foreign policies: “to refuse the obligations of international leadership […] for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past.” This statement was a continuation of McCain’s attacks on President Trump, adding to previous accusations suggesting that Trump has been pushing “unpatriotic” policy and using illegal immigrants as scapegoats.
On Tuesday, President Trump forcefully responded to the Senator’s statement on a D.C. radio station, saying: “I’m being very, very nice. But at some point, I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.” Senator McCain quickly responded to the President, where he told CNN: “I’ve faced far greater challenges than this.”
This recent incident is far from the first time the two men have clashed. Prior to the Iowa caucuses in July 2015, then-candidate Trump announced to a crowd that Senator McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, was not a “war hero” because he was captured. McCain was held captive by the North Vietnamese, who tortured him repeatedly for five and a half years. As a result of Trump’s controversial statement from over two years ago, the Republican establishment has remained reluctant to support the president.
Senator McCain is a staunch opponent of several new Republican proposals. After President Trump introduced the first version of his travel ban, McCain led a coalition against its implementation. McCain also voted against several Trumpcare bills that would have repealed and replaced the Affordable Care Act. In a number of these bills, he bore chief responsibility for their defeat.
In order to proceed with his agenda, it is up to Trump to de-escalate this feud; otherwise, he will be unable to fulfill his campaign promises. Although McCain and Trump disagree on most issues, McCain remains a powerful figure in Congress. Therefore, if Trump is to develop a viable and significant legacy, a compromise must be struck to end this intra-party conflict.