A Brief History of John McCain and Rand Paul’s Sick Burns

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Why can’t we be friends? Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

On Wednesday, John McCain advocated on the Senate floor for a vote that would have advanced Montenegro’s ascension to NATO. But Kentucky GOP senator Rand Paul busted in and objected to McCain’s stance, stymying the vote. McCain was displeased. “He has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians. So I repeat again,” McCain said, “the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.”

McCain punched first, accusing his colleague of being a foreign agent for an adversary at a time when that actually doesn’t seem insane, but Rand Paul came right back at him with a personal attack. “Well, I think he makes a really, really strong case for term limits,” he responded Thursday on Morning Joe. “I think he’s past his prime, maybe he’s gotten a little bit unhinged.” Fight!

This is not the first time the two senators, who are at completely opposite ends of the foreign-policy spectrum, have sparred. Here are some highlights:

March 2013: “Wacko birds.”
This animosity probably all began with the infamous “wacko birds” comment, which is how McCain described right-wing colleagues including Paul who were trying to block the confirmation of CIA director John Brennan over U.S. drone policy.

“You know, I think he’s just on the wrong side of history, and on the wrong side of this argument, really,” Paul said later, adding: “I treat Sen. McCain with respect. I don’t think I always get the same in return.

September 2014: “Dissembler or crackpot.”
The McCain-Paul war has involved proxies. Mark Salter, McCain’s former chief of staff, penned an op-ed in response to Paul’s false claim that McCain had met with members of ISIS:

Rand Paul is either a liar or too easily captivated by the kinds of outlandish conspiracy theories that excite many of his and his father’s supporters, a cohort long overrepresented by political fringe dwellers.

I would give him the benefit of the doubt but I’m not sure which characterization – dissembler or crackpot – would be more generous. Nor are they mutually exclusive. It’s quite possible, likely even, that he is both.

A spokesman for Paul fired back: “Mark Salter advised the Republican Party down a losing electoral path that paved the way for two terms of President Obama, so people should read his angry screed in that context and disregard it.”

April 2015: Obama’s “lapdog.”
While criticizing President Obama’s foreign policy, Paul called McCain and his hawkish pal Lindsey Graham “lapdogs” who have been “wrong about every policy issue over the last two decades.”

McCain later responded by barking to a reporter. “I mean, c’mon.”

And by calling Paul, on Fox News, “the worst possible candidate of the 20 or so that are running on the most important issue which is national security.”

May 2015: “There’s a new breed in the Senate.”
Paul successfully blocked an extension of the Patriot Act. McCain said: “There’s a new breed in the Senate. Some time ago senators would try to sit down and work things out and obviously these individuals don’t believe in that, and I’m sure it’s a great revenue raiser.”

“The [fundraising] emails are out now and they were out during the 11-hour performance a couple days ago,” McCain added. Paul only said the veteran senator shouldn’t question his “sincerity.”

May 2015: “The senator from Kentucky needs to learn the rules of the Senate.”
Paul opposed an extension of the Patriot Act that would have continued NSA surveillance, putting him in conflict with fellow Republicans. During a Senate debate, Paul tried to cut in as fellow Republican, Indiana senator Dan Coats spoke. Enter McCain.

February 2017: “I would say John McCain’s been wrong on just about everything over the past four decades.”
After McCain slammed President Trump’s tweet calling the media “the enemy of the American people,” Paul criticized McCain’s criticism on ABC’s This Week. “Everything that he says about the president is colored by his own personal dispute he’s got running with President Trump, and it should be taken with a grain of salt, because John McCain’s the guy who’s advocated for war everywhere,” he said. “He would bankrupt the nation. We’re very lucky John McCain’s not in charge, because I think we’d be in perpetual war.”

Paul continued: “I would say John McCain’s been wrong on just about everything over the last four decades. He advocated for the Iraq War, which I think destabilized the Middle East.”

A Brief History of John McCain and Rand Paul’s Sick Burns