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Democrats suspect that Graham and McCain are playing a clever political game, making exaggerated hay over Libya to score points with conservatives who might freak out over potential deals with Obama on immigration and the budget. (McCain, too, has hinted he could accept higher tax revenues in a budget deal.) "What I've seen is Senator McCain doing what he can to protect Graham's flank while Graham is out there using the media to beef up his conservative bona fides," says Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate majority leader Harry Reid.
More recently, Graham and McCain trained their fire on Hagel and Brennan, delaying Obama's nominee for Defense Secretary and now his pick for CIA chief with demands for more Benghazi facts, including details about exactly what the President was doing during the attack. (The White House says that Obama was in close touch with his national security team and that every effort was made to save the besieged Americans.) Hagel was confirmed just after McCain and Graham visited the White House. But as Graham told the pack of reporters who swarmed him at the Capitol that afternoon, "We still have Brennan."
With immigration, the amigos are about to face a mighty challenge. There are few things the GOP base hates more than the idea of amnesty. McCain's 2008 campaign almost didn't make it past the New Hampshire primary because of anger over his immigration position. At a recent Arizona town hall, McCain parried several questioners on the issue, including one who suggested that only guns can keep the border secure and another whose invective led McCain to call him a jerk. But both men insist that their party's survival requires an end to its anti-Latino image. And their trip to the White House, which both sides called constructive, proved that the amigos' slap-and-stroke act might just be working. As Obama has reached out to them--including by phone days before the meeting--their Benghazi rhetoric has seemed to cool. Asked whether he can imagine the Libyan trail leading to impeachable offenses, Graham says no. "This is not the first Administration to shade national security matters for their own benefit," he says. "It's nothing that hasn't been done before in some fashion."
Reflecting on his recent history with the President, Graham says, "Over time, I think the President kind of went one way and I went the other. And immigration could be the thing that gets us back together."