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CNN Today

Sen. McCain to Join Forces With Sen. Kennedy on Managed Health Care Reform Plan

Aired February 2, 2001 - 2:12 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: More signs of bipartisanship, this time involving the Democrats' leading legislative tactician, Sen. Edward Kennedy, and a Republican with a large national following, Arizona Sen. John McCain. These two are joining forces to reform managed health care. Their plan will be unveiled next week.

Just last week, McCain renewed his fight for campaign finance reform, which, of course, was the centerpiece of his run for the White House. During that time, he and George W. Bush forged a rocky relationship, and now it seems the president cannot turn around without having to deal with his former rival, Mr. McCain.

Here to talk more about the McCain factor is our congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl, who covered McCain's presidential campaign.

Jonathan, it seems that John McCain is seizing the spotlight continuously here in the early days of the Bush presidency. And when he does, though, he's standing alongside Democrats.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's really been something else to watch, Natalie. I mean, John McCain is acting like somebody who didn't lose his run for the presidency. You know, a new president traditionally talks about their first hundred days as a time to hit the ground running with new initiatives. Well, John McCain looks like he's got in mind his first 100 days. And like you said, he is hanging around with a long parade of Democrats trying to get this done.

I mean, look, let's start with campaign finance reform. He came out of the box right at the beginning of the new session working with Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, on campaign finance reform, announcing his intention to go forward with that regardless of whether or not the Republican leadership in the Senate wanted to, or regardless of whether or not President Bush wanted to.

And then another big issue is the one you mentioned: health care; specifically the issue of a patients' bill of rights. He's working not only with Ted Kennedy on this, but also with Sen. John Edwards, another Democrat -- Democrat from North Carolina. They'll be coming out with their plan next week.

And this is significant because, Natalie, this was one of the most divisive issues in the last Congress. And patients' bill of rights died on a party-line vote of 51-49 in the last Congress, with McCain one of the few Republicans to cross party lines. Now he's coming and hitting the ground running on that very issue.

And then finally, perhaps most interestingly, he's been working privately behind closed doors with Joe Lieberman, who, of course, ran against the Bush-Cheney ticket as Al Gore's running mate. He's been working with Joe Lieberman on the issue of gun control, another one of those intensely partisan issues from the last Congress that, you may remember, died over the issue of whether or not there would be a loophole for guns bought at gun shows.

So John McCain very much hitting the ground running here with a very aggressive and ambitious agenda, an agenda all of his own; and in doing so, doing it more with Democrats than with his fellow Republicans.

ALLEN: It's interesting times. And we had the president at a Democratic retreat this morning as well.

About the Bush and McCain camps: Are they getting along these days? Are they talking?

KARL: Well, McCain has not spoken with President Bush since he had that meeting with him, you remember, on a Wednesday, I believe it was the 24th of January, when McCain went to the White House to discuss campaign finance reform. At that meeting, McCain actually met not only with President Bush, but with Vice President Cheney. Since then, there's been no direct contact between Bush and McCain.

And there have been some tensions. I mean, one of the things that really ruffled a lot of Republican feathers, and especially in the White House, is when McCain came out announcing his campaign finance reform and he said, I have a mandate, too. Mandates are what new presidents talk about. McCain lost his nomination fight to George Bush and he came out and he said, I have a mandate, too.

Now, McCain's staff said quickly that was a poor choice of words, that what McCain meant to say is that he made a commitment to -- a commitment to continue to fight for campaign finance reform.

But coming out in such a way has certainly created some tension among Republicans. But Republicans also know that McCain is an immensely influential figure, only more influential after his presidential campaign. And they know, especially with a 50/50 Senate, that John McCain may be somebody they clash with, but he's also somebody they're going to have to work with.

ALLEN: They need him on their team as well. Thanks so much. Interesting times ahead.

KARL: Sure.

ALLEN: We expected nothing less from Capitol Hill. Jonathan Karl.

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