McCain holds up Trump’s Pentagon nominees over lack of Afghanistan details

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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is holding up President Trump’s Pentagon nominations over a lack of details on the administration’s plan for the war in Afghanistan.

McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Defense News on Tuesday that “we’ve been holding nominations … from the Pentagon to fill in those Pentagon jobs.”

McCain said he is “keeping with the Constitution of the United States” and will hold an unspecified number of Trump’s nominees for civilian positions within the Pentagon.

The delays include Army secretary nominee Mark Esper as well as Robert Wilkie, Trump’s pick for Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.


McCain had earlier Tuesday ripped into Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford because the administration has given Congress limited information on its Afghanistan strategy, which was announced Aug. 21.

“In the six weeks since the president made his announcement, this committee and the Congress, more broadly, still does not know many of the crucial details of this strategy. This is totally unacceptable. I repeat, this is totally unacceptable,” McCain said at a committee hearing to discuss the new war plan.

“We expect — indeed, we require — a regular flow of detailed information about this war,” he said.

Trump’s new strategy includes sending more than 3,000 additional U.S. troops to the region to train and assist the Afghan military and conduct counter-terror operations. The Pentagon has said there are already 11,000 troops in the country.

Trump has offered few details on his plan, beyond committing to end “arbitrary timetables for withdrawal” and calling for India and Pakistan to lend their support in the fight against terrorist groups.

“We want to be your partners, but this committee will not be a rubber stamp for any policy or president,” McCain told the Trump officials on Tuesday.

“It remains unclear why we should be confident that this new strategy could turn the tide in Afghanistan or bring us meaningfully closer to success than its failed predecessors.”

McCain told Defense News he has not yet been briefed on what the 3,000 additional troops would do in the country.

The Arizona Republican has been a vocal critic of the administration on multiple issues, and broke with his party to oppose plans this year to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

McCain alluded to a possible hold on Trump’s Pentagon nominees in remarks during the hearing Tuesday, pointing to several constitutionally-mandated moves lawmakers can take to force the administration’s hand.

“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 to force a change in that relationship,” McCain told Mattis and Dunford.

“The Constitution of the United States is something that every one of us raised our hands — when we were sworn in as United States Senators. One of the phrases, ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States’ — not support and defend the president of the United States.”

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