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Jim DeMint buries the hatchet with John McCain

WASHINGTON -- From the other side of the globe, Sen. Jim DeMint is calling a truce with Sen. John McCain.

DeMint was a national co-chairman of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential bid, and the Greenville Republican played a major role last year in bringing down the immigration-reform bill crafted by McCain and fellow S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Before leaving for his third trip to Iraq, DeMint told McCain that with Romney's exit from the White House race and the Arizona senator the likely GOP nominee, he was on board.

"He is our standard-bearer now," DeMint said Saturday in a call from Baghdad. "I believe he will carry a good, common-sense platform into the election."

Even though DeMint derided McCain's immigration reforms as amnesty, he said the two of them support aggressive U.S. military action against terrorism and oppose excessive government spending.

"On two key issues -- winning the war on terror and stopping horrendous, wasteful spending in Washington -- he and I are in lockstep," DeMint said.

Pat Toomey, head of the conservative Club for Growth economic group, named DeMint and S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford among five running-mate choices that could help McCain win the November election, in a Wall Street Journal opinion column Friday. McCain in the past has cited Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Seneca Republican, as a possible VP pick.

Addressing another hot topic, DeMint ridiculed the economic-stimulus bill Congress passed last week, which President Bush is expected to sign this week.

DeMint mocked as "the political self-stimulation bill" the $168 billion measure providing tax rebates and business investment incentives.

"It is a political bill designed to get checks out before the election," DeMint said. "I don't think sending checks as a one-time event is going to do anything to stimulate the economy. I'm very frustrated that we're not able to do anything substantial but borrow $168 billion from our future to make Americans think we're doing something."

DeMint was one of 16 senators, all Republicans, who voted against the stimulus legislation. Eighty-one senators, including Graham, voted for it.

DeMint said he spent most of Saturday walking through and flying over parts of Iraq along with fellow GOP Sens. John Ensign of Nevada and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Before dining with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, DeMint was briefed by Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq. The first-term senator also met with Marines, National Guard troops and soldiers from South Carolina and other states.

DeMint said he walked through the streets of Hawr Rajab, a town 6 miles south of Baghdad that along with other communities along the Tigris River represented a staging ground for al-Qaida attacks until recently.

U.S. and Iraqi troops, aided by civilians wearing bright-green jackets with "Sons of Iraq" emblems, have driven al-Qaida insurgents from much of the region, DeMint said.

"We walked through an area where our military people said there were beheaded bodies laying in the streets three months ago," DeMint said. "There were a number of communities like this along the river. There are still al-Qaida pockets, but they're no longer connected and able to work together."

DeMint said the C-17 military cargo plane he flew on from Kuwait to Iraq and the helicopter that ferried him around the country didn't have to perform "the crazy maneuvers" they'd done on his past trips to avoid enemy fire.

"We saw people farming and at the markets," DeMint said. "We saw cars on the street. While we've still got a long ways to go, there's been an amazing turnaround."

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