Double Trouble

After punching Obama hard, can John McCain and Lindsey Graham shake their rival's hand?

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Charles Dharapak / Getty Images

I'll hit him high ...

... I'll hit him low

When republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham arrived for an Oval Office meeting with President Obama on Feb. 26, an icebreaker was in order. And so, teeing up a potshot at his close pal's up-country South Carolina drawl, McCain cracked wise with the President: "When I travel around the world with Lindsey, I usually have to translate his remarks into English."

The quip captured much of what makes McCain and Graham the most interesting duo in Washington right now. The two Senators are "amigos," as they call themselves, and merry about the partisan mischief they make--usually at Obama's expense. They also have a kinship rare in Washington politics, a mix of real admiration and political symbiosis. "He is like a son to me," the 76-year-old McCain says of the 57-year-old Graham. "I have watched him grow" as a politician. "It's been a real joy," Graham says of working with McCain.

They may infuriate Democrats with their months-long fixation on the September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya and tactics like their recent delays of the nominations of Chuck Hagel and John Brennan to run the Pentagon and CIA. But at a time of divided government and silly sequesters they're relevant enough for the President to summon them to the White House to talk about immigration reform. Obama knows that getting a bipartisan reform bill will probably require cutting a deal with two of the GOP's top proponents of overhauling the immigration system. Never mind that McCain has accused Obama of "a massive cover-up" in Benghazi or that Graham has said Obama could have saved lives if he'd taken more action the night of the attacks.

But in Washington you can smack someone with one hand while extending the other for a handshake. Which is why McCain and Graham are keen to make it clear they carry no grudge against Obama. "I've been the same way with other Presidents. I called for the resignation of Rumsfeld over Iraq," McCain says. "It's not personal," Graham says. "This is a business to me. You disagree on Monday, and on Tuesday you work together."

The Buddy Movie

Graham and McCain have been friends for more than a decade, a partnership born of their shared passion for national security (McCain was a Navy pilot, Graham is still an Air Force Reserve lawyer), a willingness to poke their party's base in the eye and an uncanny knack for attracting the media's attention. More surprising and quotable than bland party leaders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, they are virtual fixtures on the influential Sunday talk shows, a platform they use to drive the Washington agenda. Last March, McCain's 64th appearance on NBC's Meet the Press set the show's all-time record. Graham may break it someday, having appeared on at least one Sunday show five of the past 10 weeks.

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