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Domenici Knows McCain Temper

By Michael Coleman
Journal Washington Bureau
    WASHINGTON— Sens. Pete Domenici and John McCain are both Republicans and hail from neighboring Western states, but they've never been buddies.
    The veteran lawmakers— like most members of Congress— have sizable egos and strong personalities. They've clashed repeatedly over the years, most frequently over spending issues.
    For years, McCain of Arizona would go on the Senate floor to rail against what he viewed as irresponsible pork barrel spending when appropriations bills were under debate.
    Domenici, who is famous for bringing the bacon home to New Mexico, bristled at McCain's often sarcastic jabs, which sometimes targeted New Mexico projects specifically.
    Perhaps the most legendary and oft-repeated story has McCain cursing Domenici when the New Mexico senator chaired the Senate Budget Committee back in the late 1990s.
    "Only an (expletive) would put together a budget like this," McCain famously said to the New Mexico senator in 1999, according to an Associated Press report.
    I couldn't find any record of Domenici's response, but knowing his own temper, I'm guessing it wasn't cordial.
    Despite their differences, Domenici endorsed McCain for president this year after McCain appeared to clinch the GOP nomination, praising his knowledge of military and world affairs and his commitment to keeping taxes low.
    I asked Domenici last week whether he worried that McCain's temper would be a distraction— or worse— if he is elected president.
    "I would not have endorsed him as openly and without invitation if I thought he could not be a good president," Domenici told me, adding that he is not immune to outward displays of anger himself.
    "I think we all have a tendency to fly off the handle; when you debate an issue a long time, you have a tendency to raise your voice," Domenici said. "Frankly, I think he's working very hard at trying to lessen those kinds of things. And I believe if he keeps on it, it won't be an issue."
What about Wilson?
    The Senate ethics committee issued a "qualified admonition" of Domenici last week for calling then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias before the 2006 general election to ask about indictments in a federal corruption probe involving some Democrats.
    The big question on many people's minds after the Senate committee's finding was "What about Rep. Heather Wilson?"
    Iglesias also accused Wilson of calling him about 10 days before Domenici to ask about sealed indictments in the case. Iglesias, who was later fired, said he felt improperly "pressured" by Wilson and Domenici.
    The short answer to the Wilson question is that no one— except members of the ultra-secret House ethics committee itself— knows what, if anything, will happen in connection with Wilson.
    Wilson's office on Friday said she has not been notified of any complaint pending against her, so she assumes there is none. House ethics committee staff declined comment Friday.
    House and Senate ethics committee rules differ in that outside groups can lodge complaints in the Senate. In the House, an outside group or individual can bring a complaint to a member but it must be filed and initiated by the member or the committee.
    Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a public watchdog group, lodged complaints against both Wilson and Domenici. The CREW complaint is what led to Domenici's admonition. There is no indication whether any House member plans to pick up on CREW's complaint against Wilson, which is now more than a year old.
    House staffers from both parties speak off-the-record of a "truce" of some sort in the House. In other words, members of both parties have agreed not to initiate complaints against the other.
    The committee, of course, won't confirm that. But the panel has not taken any action against a House member in the current Congress.
    Only time will tell whether the House ethics committee will decide to target Wilson, who is seeking Domenici's Senate seat, sometime before the election.