Two McFlurries

If you, like us, have had your face buried the McCain lobbyist story for the past 24 hours, there’s a chance you missed developments in two mini-scuffles—from here on out, McFlurries—involving the senator from Arizona.

The first involves public funding. Last time we tuned in, McCain was attacking Barack Obama for backing away from earlier hints that he would accept public funds during the general election. Obama reassured everyone that if McCain’s in, he’s in. But now it looks like McCain may have no choice but to be in. The chairman of the FEC says that McCain won’t be able to withdraw his request for matching funds—i.e., he’ll be forced to accept them—unless he provides more information about a bank loan in which he may have offered up federal funds as collateral. The details of the loan deal are migraine-inducing (for proof, see the FEC’s response to McCain here ), but some folks have begun to sift through them. In short, McCain’s people claim he explicitly excluded federal funds from the collateral agreement but that he reserved the right to re-enter the public-funding system in the future. The FEC chairman points out that even if the commission that approves these things were to convene, it currently has only two of six commissioners—not enough to approve much of anything.  

We’ll leave it to the lawyers to hash out the legality of it all, but it’s safe to say McCain would be in deep doo-doo were he suddenly subject to primary spending limits. He has already spent nearly the $54 million to which he would be limited. He could still decline public funding during the general election, but by then Obama would have outspent him a zillion to one. Plus, that gives Obama a great excuse to forego public funds as well.

The second kerfuffle deals with McCain’s stance on the Senate Intelligence Authorization Bill, which would limit CIA interrogations to the techniques laid out in the Army Field Manual, which prohibits torture. In the past, McCain has advocated for a single standard , arguing that the AFM should apply to everyone. But last week he voted against the Senate bill, claiming that the CIA should be able to use techniques beyond the AFM as long as they are not torture. The bill passed anyway, 54-41, but yesterday McCain reaffirmed his stance by urging President Bush to veto the bill.  

Supporters of the bill, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, have described a vote against the bill—and a veto—as a vote for water-boarding. McCain disagrees, but by supporting the veto he enters a gray zone that could be difficult to wriggle out of when confronted.

So that makes two more areas in which a future Democratic nominee—let’s call him Barack Obama—could corner McCain on what is supposed to be McCain’s turf. McCain can cite complicating factors: that he made sure to exclude public funds from the loan collateral, for example, or that giving the CIA freedom to use alternative interrogation techniques doesn’t explicitly endorse water-boarding. But it’s hard to defend those decisions and still sound like you’re giving people straight talk.