McHugh begins preparations for confirmation

Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) has started the grueling preparations for his confirmation process as Secretary of the Army, he told The Hill this week.

McHugh visited with Pentagon officials and Senators recently in anticipation of the yet-to-be-scheduled Senate hearings.

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McHugh told The Hill that he went to the Pentagon last Friday for a general briefing on unclassified matters related to the Army.

A source with knowledge of that briefing confirms that McHugh underwent his “murder boards,” an unofficial mock-hearing prep session with “people who know their stuff, including a former Armed Services Committee staffer.”

“They run it just like a hearing: question, question, question, question, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up,” said the source close to McHugh.

The nine-term GOP lawmaker paid courtesy calls to members of the Senate Armed Services committee including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

McHugh served in the House with all four senators before they were elected to the upper chamber.

President Barack Obama announced on June 2 he would nominate McHugh – then the top ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee – as his Secretary of the Army.

Since that time the 60-year old lawmaker, who stepped down from the armed services panel, has been mired in paperwork necessary for high-level security clearance that McHugh would need as the top civilian in the Army.

Over the past month and a half, McHugh has been entrenched in a thorough security clearance vetting process that he characterizes as “grueling.”

“The vetting process, the general background check, national security background check questionnaires, the questionnaires on financial disclosure for the Senate, all of that is all pretty grueling in terms of time – compiling the information, going back over a lifetime and trying to remember where you traveled to 40 years ago – and you do have a face-to-face interview with the FBI,” McHugh explained noting that he had not received word as to the final date of his confirmation hearing.

The White House sent McHugh’s official nomination paperwork to the Senate in the beginning of July; his hearing is not likely to happen until Congress returns after the August recess, Senate aides say.

An aide to Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that McHugh’s hearing is not scheduled yet due in large part to the defense authorization bill currently on the Senate floor.

Army Secretary Pete Geren, a former Democratic member of Congress appointed by then-President George W. Bush, has served a two-year stint in that position.

Even though leadership aides predict a speedy Senate confirmation following McHugh’s eventual hearing, there is a possibility that the process could drag out longer than anticipated based on the experience of his former colleague Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.).

The Senate confirmed Tauscher in late June as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, over three months after the administration announced her nomination.

Two GOP Senators placed holds on her confirmation despite what turned out to be united support for Tauscher, who the Senate approved via voice vote on June 25th.

Second-ranking GOP Senator Jon Kyl (Ariz.) used Tauscher’s nomination as leverage to get an agreement by the White House that they would brief Senate staff on arms-reduction talks with Russia and other arms-related treaties.

Senate GOP leadership aides and Democratic committee aides do not foresee holds being a problem for McHugh’s nomination however.

Senators on both sides of the aisle were quick to praise Obama’s selection of the centrist Republican, who despite never having served in the military has long taken an intense interest in defense issues.

McHugh was denied when he tried to enlist in the Air Force as a youth due to a case of rheumatic fever.

McHugh represents New York’s 23rd District, home of Fort Drum Army Base, and will continue to hold his seat until the Senate votes on his confirmation.

If and when he is confirmed, New York State will hold a special election to fill his spot. Democrats may have a shot at winning N.Y.’s 23rd district, long-held by a Republican representative; 52 percent of district voters supported Obama in the 2008 election.

McHugh is the sixth current or former member of Congress tapped to serve in Obama’s administration.

If confirmed he will join the club of former GOP House members appointed to serve in the Democratic administration.

Former Rep. Ray LaHood (Ill.) is Secretary of Transportation. Former Rep. Jim Leach (Iowa) awaits his confirmation to be Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities.