McCain backs Pentagon nominee despite concerns over defense industry ties

McCain backs Pentagon nominee despite concerns over defense industry ties
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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Thursday expressed displeasure with President Trump choosing defense industry executives for top Pentagon posts, but conceded he will send forward to confirmation a former defense lobbyist for Army secretary.

“I would be remiss if I did not reiterate my concerns about the number of nominees from defense industry filling out the leadership ranks at the Department of Defense,” the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee told Army secretary nominee Mark Esper.

Esper — who most recently worked as a vice president at Raytheon and lobbied for the defense contractor  — went before lawmakers along with three other Pentagon nominees. The others were Robert Wilkie, to be personnel and readiness undersecretary; Joseph Kernan, to be intelligence undersecretary; and Guy Roberts, to be assistant defense secretary for nuclear, chemical and biological defense.

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“I want to be clear that my reservations grew out of early consultations I had with the administration about potential nominations, including yours and a handful of others that were yet to be nominated,” McCain continued. “It was then that I decided I couldn't support further nominees with that background, beyond those we had already discussed.”

McCain has not made secret that he does not want the Trump administration to place industry executives in the Defense Department.

“I want to give the secretary of Defense the team he needs, but I’m not going to give him a team that I think is business as usual over the last eight years,” McCain said in July.

Esper, in turn, pointed to his experience in the Army. The West Point grad is a retired Army colonel and Gulf War veteran that served for 25 years.

He has also pledged to recuse himself from Raytheon-related matters.

No other issues were raised regarding Esper’s history at Raytheon in the largely uneventful nomination hearing.

McCain in the past few months has slow-rolled Trump's Pentagon nominations over what he called a lack of communication between Congress and the Defense Department.

“The reason these nominations have not been acted on as rapidly as possible is because failures of communication between this committee and the Pentagon, which is a shame, since I have known them for many, many years,” McCain said. "We intend to move your nominations through as soon as possible. We need you to get to work."

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGOP senator on backing Moore: ‘It’s a numbers game’ Overnight Energy: Panel advances controversial Trump nominee | Ex-coal boss Blankenship to run for Senate | Dem commissioner joins energy regulator Senate panel advances controversial environmental nominee MORE (R-Okla.), meanwhile, commended the experience of all four nominees.

“I’m going to blow a little smoke at you guys because I have to say in the 30 years that I’ve been on either the House or Senate Armed Services I’ve never seen a group of nominees come in more qualified than you four and I think we’re going to turn this corner now because we have the right people at the helm,” Inhofe said.