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January 20, 2018

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McCain’s Yucca song and dance

Notes on 15 minutes spent with presumptive GOP nominee John McCain in a van on the way from the Henderson campaign headquarters to the Signature Air terminal:

The first thing I noticed about McCain was, after a day’s worth of activities, including a couple of speeches and cycling through several media availabilities, how refreshed and relaxed he looked. The Democrats may want to whisper about how old he is — the oldest to ever be inaugurated should he win — but on this day in Las Vegas, he looked spry. And as I peppered him with questions the entire ride, he was quick and in good humor: I wondered about his running away from the president and our governor, and his believing that states have rights to decide on offshore drilling but not on nuclear waste disposal. Some highlights and comments follow:

Sound science by any other phrase still sounds suspicious: even more so than when used by George W. Bush, who most of us knew was lying when he promised Nevadans he would use “sound science” to decide Yucca Mountain’s fate. McCain has a manifest problem on the issue (assuming anyone will vote for president based on the dump).

He has a consistent pro-dump voting record and has spoken out in favor of the project. What’s more, he has proposed dozens of new nuclear power plants and as his ally, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, recently put it, “If you close Yucca, where do you put the waste?”

McCain acknowledged his dump support but quickly diverted the Straight Talk Express onto another track. His previous detour had been to propose some vague, international repository as a possible alternative. But this shift was to first talk about how Yucca must “pass all those tests that need to be passed” and then to invoke reprocessing, banned during the Carter administration because of concerns about the detritus, but now widely used overseas.

The reprocessing story line is probably a fantasy here. But the “pass the tests” is repackaged “sound science.” Saying he would approve Yucca only if it meets muster is utterly hollow — if it doesn’t get licensed, it won’t get built. Thanks for that help, Senator.

Any attempt to mitigate his position on the dump simply makes McCain look like every other pol who has ever visited Nevada and played the voters for suckers — although many, including Bush, have been successful.

McCain invoked the infamous “bridge to nowhere” during the interview, an exemplar of questionable federal spending he has fought. And yet he seems comfortable backing this multibillion-dollar dump to nowhere?

George and Jim Who? McCain, walking the fine line he will have to his entire campaign, reacted quickly when I wondered why his first two ads featured him running from the president like a scalded dog:

“I disagreed with the president on climate change, on the conduct of the war, on detainees, on spending ... Obviously there have been disagreements between myself and the president ... There has been agreement on many issues ... Americans are not getting to know me yesterday ... They know me. They know I am a person who reaches across the aisle to get things done, whether it be my favorite Democrat, Joe Lieberman, or Ted Kennedy, or Byron Dorgan, or Carl Levin or Russ Feingold.”

A couple of points on that answer:

First: Joe Lieberman is a Democrat? Who knew?

Second: Interesting that he would mention Feingold, whose co-sponsorship of campaign finance reform has caused McCain more trouble with conservatives than almost anything except the efforts of Kennedy, his partner in immigration reform. To his credit, McCain said he would go back to resolving the illegal immigration problem, an issue on which the president has failed to achieve any consensus during his terms.

As for Gibbons, McCain reacted calmly when I suggested he had snubbed the governor for Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki as the head of his Nevada campaign. “I didn’t mean to snub him,” McCain said. “I’ve known the lieutenant governor for 15 years and we’ve been good friends ... There are other states where the governor is not the chairman.”

Could it be his 21 percent approval rating, which made Gibbons The Invisible Man in McCain’s Nevada organization, is the same reason he is sprinting from the president? The senator chuckled and offered, “And I stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago.”

(A transcript of the interview and an audio file, which feature McCain’s comments about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s charge that McCain is temperamentally unsuited for the presidency, are available at

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