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Obama: 'I think his feelings got bruised'
February 8, 2006

"The perception in our office was that this was a very innocuous boilerplate letter," said Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Tuesday, the day after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wrote a ferocious response to a letter he received from the freshman senator.

McCain accused Obama of "self-interested partisan posturing" and "disingenuousness" as he questioned how sincerely Obama wanted to negotiate a bipartisan deal for tougher ethics and lobbying laws. Triggering the McCain reaction -- the seemingly "innocuous" letter Obama sent. More on that below.

There's a lot of ground to cover in today's column, in the wake of McCain's smackdown of Obama, who is the lead Democratic Senate spokesman on the ethics/lobbying crackdown drive.

What's new

Obama and McCain talked Tuesday afternoon, after trading phone calls. "We agreed to move on," McCain told Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball."

Matthews called McCain's letter "brilliantly angry." McCain said his vociferous reply to Obama was "a little straight talk," the signature phrase from his 2000 presidential campaign.

Obama told me, "I think his feelings got bruised. And we had that conversation and I think that we both agreed that we are going to move forward."

Today: Obama and McCain both will testify this afternoon at a Senate Committee on Rules and Administration hearing to "examine procedures to make the legislative process more transparent."

Obama is proposing creation of a nine-member congressional "Ethics Commission," with subpoena power to probe ethics allegations. Four commissioners would be former federal judges, four former members of Congress and the ninth a sort of wild-card pick. This new group would not supplant the House and Senate ethics committees but could kick-start these sleepy panels, which have not done much of a job of enforcing ethics laws already on the books.

Interesting concepts: Individuals could file complaints; anyone deliberately falsely accusing another could be slapped with a $10,000 fine and no complaints could be filed three months before an election.

Obama says McCain 'misunderstood' letter

McCain was provoked for several reasons, including Obama's statement in his letter, "I know you have expressed an interest in creating a task force to further study and discuss these matters."

However, McCain was not the senator proposing a task force.

In January, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) suggested a bipartisan task force -- outside the regular committee structure -- to write new ethics and lobbying rules. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) opposed a task force on the grounds that it could "only slow the process while providing senators with political cover."

On "Hardball," McCain said, "There was reference in the letter to a task force," though "frankly we had committed to moving forward with the committee process."

The bottom line, Obama said, is that McCain "misunderstood the letter. I think there was confusion over the reference to a task force. We were specifically referring to the proposal that Bill Frist had had, to set up a formal task force to do this."

Obama said he was not talking about the small "working group" McCain invited him to join, which would be made up of GOP and Democratic senators committed to negotiating legislation with teeth that could pass the Senate.

Republicans control the House and Senate, and a variety of measures are being considered: more and faster disclosure, travel and gift bans and preventing lobbyists from acting as campaign treasurers and fund-raisers in the wake of the guilty plea of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Also on the table is the elimination of "earmarks," or specific allocations for local projects, often accomplished through legislative sleight-of-hand.

"If people are not serious about this, we'll know soon enough. And that is the ultimate measure of who is posturing and who is sincere," Obama said.

A bipartisan approach does not mean "ignoring" that Republicans and Democrats are not in agreement on what's to be done in the wake of congressional scandals, he said. "That's not honest talk." .


McCain on "Hardball": "We have agreed to move forward, and that's what's important at this point, and we've probably provided enough entertainment for a while."

Nah, it's not about feelings get hurt. It's about getting people to talk about anything other than the crimes in the White House and the GOP Congress. McCain is fully aware republicans are the problem, so he throws a tissy fit and attacks democrats for what his party has done. It worked. He got the press and the media forgot what this is really about - GOP corruption.