A Test For The Maverick: Will McCain Vote Against Waterboarding Today?

Today, at 10:30 a.m. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to bring to the floor the Intelligence Authorization Conference Report. One provision in the legislation, pushed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), establishes a single interrogation standard requiring the intelligence community to abide by the same standards as articulated in the Army Field Manual.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a former prisoner of war, has been an outspoken advocate against waterboarding. McCain has said the practice “is not a complicated procedure. It is torture.” He has previously called waterboarding “very exquisite torture.”

In a Republican presidential debate on Nov. 28, McCain said that the Army Field Manual should be the gold standard for interrogations:

I would hope that we would understand, my friends, that life is not 24 and Jack Bauer. Life is interrogation techniques which are humane and yet effective. And I just came back from visiting a prison in Iraq. The army general there said that techniques under the Army Field Manual are working and working effectively, and he didn’t think they need to do anything else. My friends, this is what America is all about.

Watch it:

Today, the Senate will vote on cloture on the conference report, a procedure that requires 60 votes to proceed. Reid “will need some Republicans to cross party lines” for the anti-torture measure to pass. Reid said McCain “could be a major swing vote” today.


McCain has desperately attempted to court skeptical members of his own party as well as the far right in recent weeks. National Journal notes that “Republicans and the White House oppose” the Army Field Manual provision.

McCain has previously skipped votes that he supported, such as the economic stimulus package, because of pressure from the far right. Will he show up for today’s anti-torture legislation or give up on his principles?

UPDATE: McCain voted for cloture, which passed 92–4. It is unclear how he will vote on the upcoming “point of order,” expected this afternoon. As Reid explained:

If, as I hope, cloture is invoked, our Republican colleagues may raise a point of order against the Feinstein provision. We will move to waive this point of order, which, under the rules, requires 60 votes. Should Republicans force a vote to waive the point of order, I urge all of my colleagues to do so.