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Two Washington Friends, and Neither Is a Dog

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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This is a man bites dog story in Washington: an Obama cabinet secretary and a Republican House committee chairman enjoy a civil and productive relationship while disagreeing on one of today's most contentious issues.

I'm talking about Mike McCaul, the Texas Republican who heads the Homeland Security Committee, and Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security.

"I have a good rapport with Secretary Johnson," says McCaul. 

"From the moment we first met, I've had high regard for him," says Johnson of the Texas Republican.

It's not just rhetoric. Disagreeing sharply on President Barack Obama's executive order on immigration, the two men collaborate on other phases of the issue such as border security. And they worked closely on cybersecurity legislation that cleared Congress this month.

Asked at a recent Bloomberg News breakfast if the Obama administration grasps the peril posed by cyberattacks, McCaul replied: "Jeh Johnson understands it very well."

The two men actually seem to enjoy each other's company. The secretary and his wife have had McCaul over for dinner; the two periodically get together for dinner with Representative Bennie Thompson, the senior Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee. McCaul even invited Johnson to his Republican committee staff holiday party.

This is the way Washington is supposed to work; it's rare. More commonly we see House committee chairmen such as Darrell Issa haranguing cabinet members such as Attorney General Eric Holder, often with wild charges. There is no mutual respect. 

That contrasts with the McCaul-Johnson friendship. "Mike McCaul is one of the rising stars on national security and homeland security in the Republican party," Johnson says. "We often see almost eye to eye."  

This relationship will be tested early next year. When Congress approved funding the government through next September, homeland security was not part of the deal. That spending will be reviewed again in February, when some Republicans want to use it as a vehicle to undercut Obama's immigration action.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net