Updated at 9:48 a.m. on December 1.
For a brief moment on Tuesday the Senate floor did not feel like part of one of the most partisan Congresses in history. With much of the lame-duck legislation mired in gridlock, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., reached across the aisle to recognize a pillar of liberalism: the departing Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis.
In doing so, McCain praised Feingold for his steadfast commitment to his beliefs -- a trait McCain has recently been accused of abandoning.
“In his time in the Senate, Russ Feingold, every day and in every way, had the courage of his convictions,” McCain said. “Though I am quite a few years older … I confess I have always felt he was my superior in that cardinal virtue.”
McCain, once known as the maverick of the Senate for his willingness to rebuff his party, has been dubbed something of a flip-flopper more recently. During the campaign leading up to his reelection earlier this month, McCain aligned himself more closely with the GOP on a number of issues, including the fence along the Mexican border; the military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy on gays in the military; and the need for climate change legislation. He adamantly denied shifting positions.
McCain infuriated leaders of his party -- most notably, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, now the Senate minority leader, when he and Feingold partnered to enact the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, legislation designed to eliminate so-called "soft" money -- contributions unregulated by federal donation limits -- and to identify the sponsors of political ads.
McCain said he was particularly impressed with how Feingold stuck by his principles to not take soft money, even when backed into a corner.
“We were both up for reelection in 1998. I had an easy race. Russ had a difficult one," McCain recalled. "Russ's opponent in 1998 was outspending him on television, and the race became tighter. It reached a point where most observers, Democrats and Republicans, expected him to lose. The Democratic Party pleaded with Russ to let it spend soft money on his behalf. Russ refused.
"He risked his seat, the job he loved, because his convictions were more important to him than any personal success. I think he is one of the most admirable people I’ve ever met in my life.”