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Pals no more: McCain, Kerry trade personal shots during heated Senate exchange

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

While they were once known for crossing party lines to work together on foreign policy, whatever friendship John McCain and John Kerry had in the past seems now to be finally and completely dead.

That was, at least, the appearance Tuesday during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing when Mr. McCain suddenly hammered into Mr. Kerry and accused him of being out of touch with "reality."

The Obama administration is "failing very badly" at foreign policy, Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican told Mr. Kerry, a former Democratic senator from Massachusetts, who has served as President Obama's secretary of state since early last year.

"I think you're about to hit the trifecta," said Mr. McCain, who asserted that peace talks Mr. Kerry has pursued for Syria are in "total collapse," and that nuclear negotiations with Iran, as well as talks between Israel and Palestine are "finished."

Mr. McCain, one of the Republican party's leading advocates of U.S. intervention abroad, also criticized the administration's response to Russia's recent invasion of the Crimean Peninsula — dismissing White House threats to use tougher sanctions to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from pushing deeper into Eastern Ukraine.

"My hero, Teddy Roosevelt, used to say, talk softly but carry a big stick. What you're doing is talking strongly and carrying a very small stick — in fact, a twig," Mr. McCain said to Mr. Kerry.

Initially, the secretary of state appeared willing to listen patiently. But he then suddenly shot back at Mr. McCain, describing the senator's assessment as a "premature judgment about the failure of everything."

"I guess it's pretty easy to lob those judgments around, but particularly well before the verdict is in on any of them," said Mr. Kerry, who then defended his own efforts to stay the course of diplomacy on Syria and on the Israel-Palestine peace process.

"You declare it dead but the Israelis and the Palestinians don't declare it dead," Mr. Kerry said. "They want to continue to negotiate."

But Mr. McCain interrupted, saying: "We'll see, won't we Mr. Secretary?"

"I beg your pardon," shot Mr. Kerry in return.

Pushing for the last word, Mr. McCain then asserted that the talks were "stopped."

"It's stopped," he said. "Recognize reality."

But Mr. Kerry shot back again.

"Your friend Teddy Roosevelt also said that the credit belongs to the people who are in the arena who are trying to get things done. And we're trying to get something done," he said to Mr. McCain.

"Sure we may fail. And you want to dump it on me? I may fail. I don't care. It's worth doing. It's worth the effort. And the United States has a responsibility to lead, not always to find the pessimism and negativity that's so easily prevalent in the world today," Mr. Kerry said.

While Mr. McCain has made regular practice of criticizing the Obama administration's foreign policy during recent months, Tuesday's exchange suggested the senator's frustration toward Mr. Kerry in particular has reached new heights.

If nothing else, it signals a departure from past years during which the men took care to keep their political differences out of the spotlight, and even kept up appearances of being genuine friends.

Both Vietnam veterans, the two formed an alliance across party lines on repeated occasions during the early 1990s, working closely together on an investigation into missing U.S. prisoners of war and on initiatives to normalize U.S.-Vietnam relations.

When Mr. Kerry was running for president in 2004, he even reportedly pursued Mr. McCain as a potential vice presidential nominee.

While there were lingering ideological differences between the two, their political friendship appeared to reach new heights at a January 2013 Senate hearing on Mr. Kerry's nomination to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Obama administration's secretary of state.

"I commend his nomination to you without reservation," senators were told by Mr. McCain, who appeared at the hearing's opening beside Mrs. Clinton and freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, to formally introduce Mr. Kerry.

"He and I have been friends for quite a long time now," said Mr. McCain, who added that while he and Mr. Kerry have had "political differences" over the years, their friendship is "based in mutual respect."

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