GOP Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said Tuesday that he’s holding up Pentagon nominees until the Trump administration divulges more information on its Afghanistan strategy.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Afghanistan, McCain informed Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford that he will continue blocking the Trump administration from filling spots in the Pentagon until he’s fully briefed on the strategy for Afghanistan and Iraq, Defense News reports.
“There are not two individuals that I admire more than are sitting at the table facing this committee, but I want to tell you again: We will not accept a lack of information, a lack of strategy, a lack of coordination with this committee,” McCain said. “And there are several methods, thanks to the Constitution, that we have to try and force a change in that relationship. I’ve been told by both of you that we are having a strategy, that we are now going to work closely together with the committee, that we are working with various allies. I’m glad to hear that.”
The Trump administration finally issued a strategy for Afghanistan in late August, and although it entails sending more troops to the region to advise to the Afghan military, it’s unclear in the strategy what conditions would count as success. The Pentagon intends to send about 3,000 more troops to the conflict.
McCain’s hold comes at a time when 70 percent of Pentagon positions that require Senate confirmation remain unfilled, which means that the hold will delay the filling of those positions even further, as the Trump administration has been much slower at filling positions than past administrations.
“There’s a number of them that have been awaiting hearings and confirmations, some have had hearings,” McCain said. “The Constitution says that the Senate has the obligation to advise and consent. I am in keeping with the Constitution of the United States. When I got reelected, I said I would support and defend the Constitution, I didn’t say I would support and defend the president of the United States.”
The delay is preventing the confirmation of Trump’s pick for secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, and his pick for Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Robert Wilkie.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand also asked Mattis if he’d be more publicly open about troop deployments.
“No, ma’am, if it involves telling the enemy anything that will help them, and yes, ma’am, if it involves honesty with this committee in private, at any time, at closed hearing, we will get as specific as you wish. No reservations at all in private,” Mattis replied.
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