By Jeremy Herb - 03/27/14 06:23 PM EDT
House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) criticized the committee’s Republicans on Thursday for excluding Democrats from a briefing on Ukraine with the top U.S. commander in Europe.
Smith said he was “deeply disappointed” that committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and senior Republican members held the classified meeting with Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove without inviting Democratic members, saying it went against the committee’s bipartisan spirit.
Smith also slammed Republicans for attacking President Obama over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, arguing that claims Russia invaded because Obama was weak or had cut the defense budget were “absurd.”
Smith’s statement shows a rare public dispute in the House Armed Services Committee, which frequently touts its bipartisanship on the annual Defense authorization bill.
His comments come one day after the Armed Services GOP committee chairmen sent a letter to President Obama urging him to do more in Ukraine, including providing intelligence assessments to Ukraine and increasing the U.S. posture in Eastern Europe.
McKeon spokesman Claude Chafin said the Thursday meeting with Breedlove did not “degrade the bipartisan spirit of this committee.”
Chafin said that the committee held a bipartisan meeting with Breedlove on Wednesday, and Breedlove’s comments in that briefing sparked the GOP letter to Obama and the subsequent meeting.
Chafin said that McKeon already had a previously scheduled the meeting with Breedlove Thursday, and he decided to invite GOP subcommittee chairmen who had signed the letter because they had expressed concerns about Breedlove’s assessment.
“It is entirely in keeping with chairman’s prerogative to have personal meetings with senior military leaders and invite who he sees fit to attend those meetings,” Chafin said. “We know and concur that ranking member Smith also has one-on-one meetings with combatant commanders.”
A Democratic committee aide said Thursday’s meeting wasn’t a normal “meet-and-greet,” and was elevated because it was held in a classified setting and focused on Ukraine.
The Democratic aide said McKeon told Smith afterward that he should have invited Smith to the briefing as well.
Chafin contended the meeting was held in a classified setting because Breedlove “obviously had things to say of a sensitive nature.”
“The chairman and his subcommittee chairmen wanted to be able to have a full and frank conversation,” Chafin said. “They can’t do that in his office.”
A GOP committee aide also said that McKeon was telling Smith he needed to hear what Breedlove had to say, because Smith was also going to have his one-on-one meeting with the European commander.