McCain vs. Paul: The Senate’s Generational Grudge Match
Policy + Politics

McCain vs. Paul: The Senate’s Generational Grudge Match

Reuters/Jason Reed

Former Republican presidential nominee John McCain and Republican presidential wannabe Rand Paul renewed their simmering grudge fest during a high-profile Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday morning into Apple’s overseas tactics for avoiding U.S. taxes on tens of billions of dollars of revenue.

Back in early March, McCain branded Paul and other Tea Party-style Senate Republicans  as “wacko birds” for mounting a nearly 13-hour filibuster of the nomination of John Brennan as director of the CIA to protest the Obama administration’s policy of deploying deadly drones. Later, McCain appeared on a Fox News program to apologize to Paul and others. And Paul, a freshman senator, subsequently appeared on the same show to say all was forgiven. He joked that the two men would not be engaging “in any fisticuffs or anything.”

But that cordiality dissolved today after McCain jumped to the defense of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. This was after Paul twice criticized him for hauling Apple’s corporate executives before the panel and “bullying” them for legally attempting to minimize their U.S. tax obligation.

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“Tell me one of these politicians up here who doesn’t minimize their taxes,” Paul said. “Tell me a chief financial officer you would hire if he didn’t try to minimize his taxes legally. Tell me what Apple has done illegally. I’m offended by government that uses the IRS to bully the Tea Party, but I’m also offended by government that convenes a hearing to bully one of America’s greatest success stories. I’m offended by the spectacle of dragging in executives from an American company that is not doing anything illegal.”

“If anyone should be on trial here, it should be Congress,” Paul went on. “I think the committee  should apologize to Apple, I think Congress should be on trial here for creating a bizarre and byzantine tax code that runs into the tens of thousands of pages and for creating a tax code that simply doesn’t compete with the rest of the world.”

Levin fired back after Paul’s initial  salvo, saying that while Apple was indeed a great global  technology company, “No company should be able to determine how much they are going to pay in taxes  . . . using all kinds of gimmicks to avoid paying the taxes…”

“This subcommittee is not going to apologize to Apple,” Levin said. “We did not drag them in front of this subcommittee. They have come here willingly to explain their system. We intend to hear from them as to what this system is that they use.”

McCain showed restraint after Paul’s first rant against Levin and the committee, but after the freshman Tea Party Republican offered a second tongue-lashing to the committee later on, McCain had heard enough. Turning to Levin, McCain said that the two of them had worked together for more than a quarter of a century in the Senate and that “I know of no member of the United States Senate who ever accused you of bullying or harassing a witness . . . And frankly it’s offensive to hear you accused of that behavior which has never characterized the conduct of this committee.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., seconded McCain’s remarks, describing them as “a classy example of bipartisanship.” A seemingly perturbed Paul departed the hearing room shortly thereafter, without staying around for the testimony of Apple chief executive Timothy D. Cook and other xecutives.

Today’s renewed fireworks underscores a generational divide within the Senate Republican caucus, pitting some of the Old Bulls, including McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., against arch conservative and libertarian newcomers, including Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. The newcomers are somewhat dismissive of McCain, who waged an unsuccessful – and some say grossly inept  -- campaign for president in 2008. And they are pressuring other veteran GOP leaders, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to be more aggressive and doctrinaire in their dealings with President Obama and the Democrats.