- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Sen. John McCain, who made his mark on the presidential race by attacking his own U.S. Senate colleagues and key Republican interest groups, ducked back into Washington yesterday with little fanfare two weeks after dropping out.
"We weren't going to have a parade or anything like that," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said dryly as the Senate came back into session after a week off. "But the Senate is not that kind of an institution. Senators go off and do other things and when they come back we welcome them and go on about our business."
But Mr. McCain's return is hardly routine. Mr. McCain rocked the Republican establishment with an upstart bid for the presidency that briefly stalled front-runner Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Mr. McCain agreed yesterday to help raise money and to campaign for House Republican candidates after two of his top campaign aides met with Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
Mr. Davis met with John Weaver, political director of Mr. McCain's suspended presidential campaign, and Mike Dennehy, another top aide, to work out details on how and where the Arizonan could help the Republicans hold onto their majority in November.
"We hope to have him campaign in the early stages of the campaign, hopefully right away," said Jill Schroeder, the NRCC's chief spokesman. "He's on board with us."
NRCC officials said that Mr. McCain would be focusing much of his campaign efforts in the Northeast, where he won five presidential primaries in New England. "This is an area where we have a lot of targeted districts," Miss Schroeder said.
However, Mr. McCain's aides said that he would not raise any unregulated soft money contributions, which he wants to ban as part of an overall reform plan, other Republican congressional sources said last night.
During his presidential campaign, Mr. McCain's crusade for campaign-finance reform led him into sharp criticism of his own Senate colleagues as "corrupt."
His return to the Senate would also be complicated by his attacks on religious conservative leaders as the "forces of intolerance" and his open courting of Democratic and independent voters in Republican primary contests.
"It's up to him" whether he is welcomed back by his colleagues, said Sen. Tim Hutchinson, Arkansas Republican and a graduate of Bob Jones University in South Carolina.
Bob Jones University, a conservative religious school, was a particular target of Mr. McCain's attacks after Mr. Bush delivered a speech there. Mr. McCain accused Mr. Bush of being "anti-Catholic" because he did not repudiate the university's criticism of the Catholic church.
"We will accept him, we will welcome him," Mr. Hutchinson said. "There will be no grudges."
Mr. McCain returned to his office in the morning but held no public events. The normally press-friendly senator limited his contacts to an interview with Dan Rather of CBS and a few brief remarks in the hallway.
He told reporters that he still intends to support Mr. Bush for president, despite his tepid comments so far about the presumptive nominee. He again said he would never consider running as an independent.
In the Rather interview, Mr. McCain said he would not be Mr. Bush's running mate.
"The vice president of the United States would be a great honor, obviously," he said. But "I have to assess where I can best serve the country … and I think that's in the United States Senate."
Mr. McCain's first contact with most colleagues will be today at the weekly closed-door "policy lunch," the main opportunity for Republican senators to discuss strategy.
Aides say he will probably give his first post-campaign speech today as well, about campaign finance reform. Mr. McCain has long pushed a ban on "soft money" donations to parties and private groups.
In the past, he has also advocated banning private groups from running ads in the 60 days before an election. He dropped that provision in his latest proposal after critics complained of free-speech violations.
Republican leaders will hold hearings this week on a plan to limit soft money, rather than end it, and to raise the $1,000-per-person candidate contribution limit.

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