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McCain and Obama 'moving on'

Senators have 'nice discussion' after ethics tiff, McCain says

Sen. John McCain had characterized Sen. Obama's "previous assurances" as "typical rhetorical gloss."


John McCain
Barack Obama

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A day after a testy exchange of letters that raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill, Republican Sen. John McCain said Tuesday that he and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama were "moving on" after having a "nice discussion."

Further, the two senators are scheduled to appear together on Wednesday afternoon at a Senate hearing on proposed changes to lobbying rules -- the issue that became a bone of contention between them.

"Everything's fine," said McCain, of Arizona, who declined to provide additional details of his conversation with Obama when pressed by reporters. "We're moving on, we're moving on, we're moving on." (Watch McCain's corridor comments before the senators made peace -- 1:40)

On Monday, McCain unleashed an unusually biting and blunt broadside against Obama, accusing the freshman senator from Illinois of backtracking on a previous commitment to work with McCain in developing a bipartisan proposal for lobbying and ethics reform.

In a letter to Obama on Monday, McCain -- upset by his colleague's support for a reform bill put forward by Democratic leaders as well as a suggestion that McCain's approach might delay the process -- accused Obama of "self-interested partisan posturing" and "disingenuousness."

McCain also told the Illinois Democrat that "I understand how important the opportunity to lead your party's efforts to exploit this issue must seem to a freshman senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your earlier disingenuousness."

"I have been around long enough to appreciate that in politics, the public interest isn't always a priority for every one of us," McCain wrote. "Good luck to you, senator."

In response, Obama sent a letter back to McCain, saying he was "puzzled" by McCain's reaction and insisting he still supported a bipartisan approach to ethics reform.

"The fact that you have now questioned my sincerity and my desire to put aside politics for the public interest is regrettable but does not in any way diminish my deep respect for you, nor my willingness to find a bipartisan solution to this problem," Obama wrote.

Earlier Tuesday, as the controversy brewed, McCain paused in front of the cameras to defend the letter, saying his comments were "a little straight talk about people saying one thing and doing another."

"I don't think that the tone was either venomous or sarcastic," he told reporters, prior to his conversation with Obama. "I'm not angry in the slightest."

McCain also said he understands that "people don't like straight talk."

"That's why I am not going to win Miss Congeniality again this year in the Senate."

What set off McCain was a letter Obama sent him late last week, after he and several other Democrats attended a meeting hosted by McCain to discuss a bipartisan approach to lobbying and ethics reform.

In that letter, Obama expressed support for a reform bill being pushed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, rather than McCain's proposal for a bipartisan task force to look at legislation.

"I know you have expressed an interest in creating a task force to further study and discuss these matters, but I and others in the Democratic caucus believe the more effective and timely course is to allow the committees of jurisdiction (in the Senate) to roll up their sleeves and get to work on writing ethics and lobbying reform legislation that a majority of the Senate can support," Obama wrote.

In the letter he sent Monday, McCain accused the Democratic leadership of wanting "to use the issue to gain a political advantage in the 2006 elections." And he denied that his task force was designed to short-circuit the Senate committee process.

"The timely findings of a bipartisan working group could be very helpful to the committee in formulating legislation," McCain said. "I have consistently maintained that any lobbying reform proposal be bipartisan."

"As I explained in a recent letter to Senator Reid, and have publicly said many times, the American people do not see this as just a Republican problem or just a Democratic problem."

But in his rebuttal, Obama said he made it clear during last week's meeting that the Democratic caucus would insist that any reform plan go through the normal committee process -- and that he believes Reid's bill "should be the basis for a bipartisan solution."

McCain and Obama are scheduled to testify Wednesday before the Senate Rules Committee. The hearing starts at 2 p.m.

CNN Correspondent Ed Henry and Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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