Angry Boeing supporters are vowing revenge against Republican presidential candidate John McCain over Chicago-based Boeing's loss of a $35 billion Air Force tanker contract to the parent company of European plane maker Airbus. ( AP )
There are other targets for their ire - the Air Force, the defense secretary and even the entire Bush administration.
But Boeing supporters in Congress are directing their wrath at McCain, the Arizona senator and nominee in waiting, for scuttling an earlier deal that would have let Boeing build the next generation of Air Force refueling tankers. Boeing now will miss out on a deal that it says would have supported 44,000 new and existing jobs at the company and suppliers in 40 states.
"I hope the voters of this state remember what John McCain has done to them and their jobs," said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash, whose state would have been home to the tanker program and gained about 9,000 jobs.
"Having made sure that Iraq gets new schools, roads, bridges and dams that we deny America, now we are making sure that France gets the jobs that Americans used to have," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. "We are sending the jobs overseas, all because John McCain demanded it."
The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. and its U.S. partner, Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman, won a competition with Boeing Feb. 29 to build the refueling planes in one of the biggest Pentagon contracts in decades. The unexpected decision has sparked outrage from union halls to the halls of Congress over the impact on U.S. jobs, prestige and national security. EADS and Northrop say about 60 percent of their tanker will be built in the U.S.
McCain said he is keeping an open mind on the contract, but in the past he has boasted about his role in blocking an earlier version of the tanker deal that gave the contract to Boeing. The deal was killed in 2004 after a former Boeing executive improperly recruited an Air Force official while she was still overseeing contracts involving prospective Boeing deals. The former Air Force official, Darleen Druyun, and a top Boeing executive both served time in prison, and the scandal led to the departure of Boeing's chief executive and several top Air Force officials.
McCain has run ads touting his role in fighting "pork" such as the tanker project and cited the deal in a recent GOP debate.
"I saved the taxpayers $6 billion in a bogus tanker deal," he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, echoing the thoughts of many congressional Democrats, sees McCain's role in a less positive light. She said the earlier tanker deal was "on course for Boeing" before McCain started railing against it.
"I mean, the thought was that it would be a domestic supplier for it," Pelosi told reporters. "Senator McCain intervened, and now we have a situation where the contract may be - this work may be outsourced."
Even Boeing's Republican supporters are critical of McCain.
"John McCain will be the nominee and I will support him, but if John McCain believes that Airbus or EADS is the company for our Air Force tanker program he's flat-out wrong - and I'll tell him that to his face," said Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash.
Rep. Todd Tiahrt, a Kansas Republican whose district includes a Boeing plant that could have gained hundreds of new jobs from the tanker program, said McCain's role in killing the earlier deal is likely to become an election issue. Both of the leading Democratic candidates for president, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have criticized the Air Force decision.
"I think we absolutely will hear more about it," Tiahrt said. "We'll hear it mostly from the Democrats and they have every right to be concerned."
McCain called such criticism off base.
"In all due respect to the Washington delegation, they vigorously defended the process before - which turned out to be corrupt - which would have cost the taxpayers more than $6 billion and ended up with people in federal prison," he said. "I'm the one that fought against that for years and brought down a corrupt contract."
Keith Ashdown, with the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, said Boeing executives who broke the law were to blame for the demise of the tanker contract - not McCain.
"This was theirs from day one," he said. "This idea that any lawmaker is to blame is a joke."
Still, Todd Donovan, a political science professor at Western Washington University, said McCain's opposition to Boeing could hurt him with voters in Washington and other states affected by the tanker program. Boeing would have performed much of the work in Everett, Wash., and Wichita, Kan., and used Pratt & Whitney engines built in Connecticut. Significant work also was slated for Texas.
"If he can be painted as somehow being associated with job losses it could hurt him on the margins," Donovan said.
McCain's role in the tanker deal did not bother Alabama politicians, including Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who endorsed McCain three days after the Air Force contract was announced. The EADS-Northrop tanker, based on the Airbus A330, will be built in Mobile, Ala., where it will produce 2,000 new jobs, and support 25,000 jobs at suppliers nationwide.