By Alexander Bolton - 02/09/07 12:00 AM EST
Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) vote against the nomination of Gen. George Casey to become Army chief of staff is a departure from a policy he outlined two years ago on the president’s prerogative to appoint advisers.
But a McCain spokeswoman said that his earlier statement should not be taken out of context. She said it referred to filibusters of presidential appointments, not final confirmation votes.
McCain was one of 14 senators to vote against Casey yesterday, but his vote drew a lot of attention because he is the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Nine other Republicans and four Democrats also voted against Casey, including fellow White House hopeful, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Critics view McCain’s vote as an effort to distance himself from President Bush’s Iraq war policy while he lays the groundwork for his own presidential campaign. Sixty five percent of Americans disapprove of Bush’s job performance, according to a Gallup poll completed over the weekend, a dismal rating that has been widely attributed to lack of support for the war.
(Casey’s wife, Sheila Casey, is the chief financial officer of The Hill newspaper.)
Two years ago, shortly after Bush won reelection, McCain declared that the president has a right to appoint his team of advisers, even though they may be controversial or unappealing to senators who have the responsibility of confirming them.
“Mr. President, elections have consequences, and one consequence of President Bush’s reelection is that he has the right to appoint officials of his choice,” McCain said in a statement on the Senate floor as his colleagues were considering whether to confirm John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
“I stress this, because the president nominates not the Democrats’ selection, nor mine or that of any other senator, but his own choice,” said McCain. “When President Clinton was elected, I did not share the policy views of some of the officials he nominated, but I voted to confirm them, knowing that the president has a right to put into place the team that he believes will serve him best.”
Bolton at the time was a far more controversial nominee. He never received a confirmation vote from the full Senate because Democrats filibustered his nomination with the support of Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio). Bolton attracted widespread criticism after the Foreign Relations Committee received testimony from the nominee’s former colleagues, who accused him of being abusive.
Democrats criticized Bolton’s nomination because of his outspoken critical views of the U.N., which he described as irrelevant and corrupt.
Melissa Shuffield, McCain’s spokeswoman, said his statement during the Bolton debate conveyed his belief that presidential appointees should receive up-or-down confirmation votes, and did not mean to say they are entitled to unanimous approval.
She noted that in the same floor statement that McCain urged his colleagues to allow a vote to proceed.
“For my colleagues who disagree and do not want Mr. Bolton there, I respect their views,” he said. “But let’s go ahead and give him an up-or-down vote before we go into recess for a week. Let him go.”
Senate approval for the position of Army chief of staff is usually routine — either by voice vote or unanimous consent.
There is only one recorded instance of the Senate voting on an Army chief of staff, which happened in 1972 after public support for the Vietnam war had cratered when Sens. Frank Church (D-Idaho) and William Proxmire (D-Wis.) cast the only two votes against Gen. Creighton Abrams. Neither lawmaker sat on the Armed Services Committee at that time, according to Senate records.
“This is not a typical step,” said Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, of McCain’s vote. “It’s a reflection of a deep frustration that McCain has felt for three years about the way this war has been conducted; a frustration with [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, with the president and vice president, and with the military.”
McCain did not have a chance to formally register his position on the war earlier this week when he missed the vote on proceeding to consideration of two Iraqi war resolutions, including one he sponsored along with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). McCain was in Texas meeting with political supporters.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and other Democrats claimed the vote on whether to end a filibuster of the resolutions would be considered tantamount to a vote on the war itself if Republicans successfully blocked consideration of the resolutions.
Luis Miranda, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said that McCain was trying to distance himself from the president’s war policy, but that it would not succeed.
But Ornstein disputed allegations of McCain’s political motive.
“This is not an area where McCain is posturing for politics,” said Ornstein, who explained that his judgment was based on knowing McCain personally. “That line is drawn. When it comes to war and peace John McCain is going to do what he thinks is right no matter what.”
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), one of McCain’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, declined to offer judgment on his colleague.
“I don’t know what his rationale was,” he said.
But others said they respected McCain’s stance.
“I respect John McCain and his extraordinary knowledge of the U.S. military,” said Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who preceded McCain as the senior Republican on Armed Services. “His vote should be respected.”