John McCain (R-AZ) is the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the United States Senate. We all know this. We also know that he has been a thorn in President Donald Trump’s side over the recent health care votes. He recently announced that he is dying from brain cancer. And he is now a man on a mission.
For years, McCain has brandished his well-earned nickname of “Maverick” because of his bull-in-a-china shop style of plowing through congressional red tape. He has stood firm in the trenches, both for and against policy decisions that he felt strongly about.
Now he is standing firm against Trump in gaining approval for several appointees to key positions — with the caveat that the appointees will get a look when Trump stops being secretive about his plans for advancement of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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As reported in Defense News:
‘Outside a tense committee hearing on Afghanistan with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, McCain told Defense News that because the administration has not been open with Congress, “we’ve been holding nominations … from the Pentagon to fill in those Pentagon jobs.”‘
It has been more than a month since Trump announced that he had a new strategy. A brief outline was offered, but there was no real information disseminated beyond “sending more U.S. troops as advisers to the Afghan military.” According to current Department of Defense (DoD) records, there are 11,000 troops already deployed, which exceeds previous reports by 8,500. The DoD has mentioned plans to deploy more than 3,000 more people in the near future.
When discussing the hold-ups on appointees, McCain said he is simply upholding the Constitution:
‘There’s a number of them that have been awaiting hearings and confirmations, some have had hearings. 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.’
In a committee hearing on Tuesday, McCain admonished the Trump administration’s “disturbing” unwillingness to communicate and coordinate. He used one of the checks and balances built into the Constitution to stop the executive branch from steamrolling through the approval process until they produce more information on their expected military advancements. McCain is playing hard ball:
‘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. 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. But if anyone on this committee feels they have been fully briefed on what our strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq is, please raise your hand.’
Not one person raised their hand after McCain’s challenge. He has nothing to lose. The Trump administration can’t bully him by threatening to support a primary opponent, since this is likely McCain’s final term, due to the brain cancer and terminal diagnosis. It will be interesting to watch this stalemate play out.