PHOENIX — Sen. John McCain is predicting that the Republican-controlled Senate will generally help incoming President Donald Trump when possible on Cabinet nominees and other priorities but won't sacrifice its independence or back down over disagreements such as the U.S. relations with Russia.
Re-elected to a sixth Senate term, the Arizona Republican who also was the 2008 GOP presidential nominee is returning to Capitol Hill as chairman of the influential Senate Armed Services Committee, which has oversight over the Pentagon and will hold hearings on Trump's eventual pick for defense secretary and other nominations.
No love has been lost between McCain and Trump, who engaged in a long-running public feud that culminated last month in McCain withdrawing his support of Trump as the GOP presidential nominee. Trump went on to stun the world by defeating Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, on Election Day.
"In my view, I think we will show deference, but at the same time, we are not a rubber stamp," McCain said Friday. "I am not a rubber stamp. There are maybe 100 Department of Defense positions that require Senate confirmation. I believe that the Constitution requires advice and consent (of the Senate)."
In his first interview with The Arizona Republic since his Nov. 8 ballot-box victory over his Democratic challenger, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Flagstaff, McCain also forecast a major disagreement with Trump over the new president's friendly attitude toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.
McCain gave a preview Tuesday with a hard-hitting statement sounding the alarm about any prospective "reset" of U.S.-Russia relations, warning that no faith should be put in Putin, "a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America’s allies, and attempted to undermine America’s elections."
Putin, who called Trump on Monday, has been "acting very aggressively," withdrawing Russia from the International Criminal Court and keeping pressure on Ukraine and the Baltic states, McCain said. But he added that senators can push back against Trump's overtures to Putin via Defense and State Department confirmation hearing.
"I know Senator (Bob) Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, shares my views on issues such as relations with Russia and other foreign-policy issues," McCain said. "We'll be working closely together, and also with Senator (Richard) Burr, who is the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. So, we are co-equal branches of government. That means showing respect for the prerogatives of the commander-in-chief, but it also means that you're not a rubber stamp."
Asked generally about his focus in his new term, McCain reiterated that he will not be neglecting Arizona issues but said he intends to be heavily engaged in national-security issues, such as the war against Islamic State militants, and that the Armed Services Committee will be a center of his activities. Among other things, McCain promised to build on his Defense Department reform efforts of the past two years.
"We have made very big reforms, whether it be health care, retirement, acquisition," McCain said. "I will continue with a strong reform agenda ... because there is still too much waste and mismanagement in defense. But, also, obviously, we are in the most dangerous time since the end of World War II, so we will make sure the Senate Armed Services Committee plays a major role in our national security."
In his Election Night remarks, McCain, 80, suggested that his sixth term would be his final one.
I think this might be the last" campaign, he said at one point. "I'll say good night and thank you, one last time, for making me the luckiest guy I know."
However on Friday, McCain would not rule out running again at age 86, saying it's not a decision he would make for about three years. It would depend on his health or other factors, he said.
"It's just not something you'd contemplate right after election to a six-year term," McCain said. "I feel great; my mother will be 105 in February."
McCain also declined to disclose who got his nod in the presidential race. After un-endorsing Trump, he had said he might write in his friend, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
"I have the right to privacy, my friend," McCain said.