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WASHINGTON -- John McCain may not have emerged from a private meeting in the Oval Office today as Barack Obama's BFF but the two former presidential rivals appear on friendlier terms than they have been for awhile.
Amid chaos in Egypt and a monster blizzard in the Midwest, the president took time out of his packed schedule to meet for 30 minutes behind closed doors at the White House with the Arizona Republican.
"Senator McCain and the President had a productive meeting on a range of issues, including the situation in the Middle East, immigration reform and border security, trade, and budgetary matters," McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said. "Senator McCain looks forward to working with the President to address issues of mutual concern for the welfare of our country in these challenging times."
A White House official said the discussion touched on "our desire to work with Republicans and Democrats to grow our economy, create jobs and win the future" and that Obama talked about "our shared responsibility for our deficit, and his focus on working together in a bipartisan way to make tough choices necessary to ensure that our future isn't built on a mountain of debt."
The meeting may have already reaped results.
Soon after McCain left the White House, he tweeted a message that may have telegraphed the growing impatience with events unfolding on the streets of Cairo: "Regrettably the time has come 4 Pres. Mubarak 2 step down & relinquish power. It's in the best interest of Egypt, its people & its military."
The two men also discussed a more prosaic matter, banning earmarks, an issue Obama included in his State of the Union address but which has won him few fans within his own party.
"I remember two people standing up and clapping, Sen. McCain and Sen. (Claire) McCaskill," Gibbs said. "It was a little bit of a lonely group in that part of the speech."
The meeting was the first face-to-face between the men since December and one of a mere handful of encounters since the 2008 election. In their talk during the last lame-duck Congress, Obama tried -- and failed -- to win McCain's vote to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and pass the DREAM Act immigration bill.
Whether today's huddle will result in greater cooperation remains to be seen. But as Obama has moved toward the center after the shellacking his party took in November, it is clear McCain is more willing to work with him.
The senator broke the ice after the Tucson shooting when he wrote a glowing review of the president's speech at a memorial service and endorsed his call for more civil political debate.
"I disagree with many of the president's policies," McCain wrote in The Washington Post, "but I believe he is a patriot sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country's cause."
The president took notice and called McCain to thank him. And, oh by the way, why don't you come by to the White House for a meeting?
"Any historical strains in the relationship should just be chalked up to inevitable scabs and scars from running against each other for the presidency" Mark McKinnon, a close friend and adviser to McCain told Politics Daily. Despite "a rocky history," he predicts, they "could end allies in some important and historic political chapters ahead for the country."
McKinnon, who left McCain's 2008 presidential campaign to avoid attacking Obama once he became the Democratic nominee, said the senator is a "natural bridge for Obama on foreign policy, military and environmental issues."
McCain, who recently returned from a trip to South America, is already working with White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley on free trade deals with Colombia and Panama.
Until recently, though, Obama and McCain barely spoke.
And for a window into their feelings for one another, the anonymously penned "O: A Presidential Novel" that most now agree was written by McCain confidante Mark Salter may say it all. As one reviewer noted, the thinly veiled Obama character is "a conceited narcissist whose inner life consists of gripes about his opponents" while the McCain stand-in is the second coming of Ronald Reagan.
Friends of McCain say he has been disappointed that Obama hasn't reached out to him as his party's standard bearer or consulted him on Iraq and other issues as befits a senior statesman.
Not that their dealings were ever warm.
As a wet-behind-the-ears freshman senator, Obama sought out the more seasoned McCain to work on the Republican's signature issue, campaign finance reform. The partnership proved short-lived and McCain later lit into Obama for opting out of the federal public financing system.
During his unexpectedly uphill battle to get noticed by the media during the presidential campaign, McCain took to calling his Democratic opponent "The One."
Although McCain would be booed by his own supporters for coming to Obama's defense against personal attacks, and the pair would meet soon after the election to speak, their few interactions since have been less than warm and fuzzy.
One of their sharpest exchanges came nearly a year ago during the president's health care summit when McCain accused the administration of backroom dealing.
"Let me just make this point, John, because we are not campaigning anymore," Obama scolded.
"I'm reminded of that every day," McCain quickly remarked.
The Tucson column, coming amid a new call for civility after the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, marked "a clear signal of a different approach" by McCain, said Norman Ornstein, a long-time congressional watcher at the American Enterprise Institute.
"He still can't stand Obama in a lot of ways going back to when they were in the Senate together," he said, adding that "Obama didn't do a lot in his first two years to ameliorate that."
Still, Ornstein said, today's meeting may mean both men are ready to tone down the rhetoric and seek common ground.
"It's a different relationship," he said, "one in which they are not best buddies but one in which they can work together."
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