McCain doles out favors, makes play for freshmen on his panel

McCain doles out favors, makes play for freshmen on his panel

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain would have said ‘enough’ to acrimony in midterms, says Cindy McCain Trump nominates Jim Gilmore for ambassador post Arizona New Members 2019 MORE (R-Ariz.) is doling out favors to freshmen on the Senate Armed Services Committee and casting himself as a mentor to a new crop of senators.

GOP aides say McCain’s push reflects his desire to get as much done as he can over the next two years — in case Democrats take back the Senate majority in 2016.

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McCain needs a united Republican side, the aides say.

“When he talks about what the power of the chairmanship is, it’s to set the agenda. A part of that is bringing along the members who can help advocate for his issues on defense and national security,” one aide told The Hill.

McCain is facing reelection next year, and the favors he gives as a chairman could come back to help him.

The five-term lawmaker already has a challenger in the 2016 Republican primary in Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward, who plans to run to the right of McCain. Other potential rivals are waiting in the wings.

McCain’s panel has five new members, including rising conservative stars Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonWarren congratulates former student and researcher on election to Congress Senators introduce Trump-backed criminal justice bill Trump throws support behind criminal justice bill MORE (Ark.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa), who could be particularly important allies.

The other three GOP freshmen on the panel are Sens. Mike Rounds (S.D.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska) and Thom Tillis (N.C.).

McCain has named Cotton the chairman of the Airland subpanel, which is responsible for overseeing many of the Pentagon’s biggest weapons programs, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

He also included Cotton on a congressional trip last month to Ukraine and Slovakia and signed on to a letter Cotton organized earlier this year to Iranian leaders that suggested Congress would junk any nuclear deal with Iran once President Obama leaves office.

After McCain was criticized by GOP presidential candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAvenatti ‘still considering’ presidential run despite domestic violence arrest Mulvaney positioning himself to be Commerce Secretary: report Kasich: Wouldn’t want presidential run to ‘diminish my voice’ MORE, Cotton quickly came to his defense.

“I disagree with Mr. Trump’s comments. John McCain is a great American,” Cotton said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” adding that Trump should “apologize and retract” his remarks.

McCain brought Ernst on a congressional delegation to the Munich Security Conference in Germany in February.

Ernst’s backing in particular could prove a benefit; she has garnered a national profile after delivering the Republican State of the Union response earlier this year.

McCain asked Sullivan to be the committee’s point man for oversight of the administration’s Asia “rebalance” — the strategy of moving U.S. military forces away from Europe and the Middle East and toward the Pacific.

The efforts have been noticed by the freshmen.

“I appreciate it. He’s brought us in and really embraced us as contributing members — you don’t feel like you’re going through the start-up phase,” Tillis said.

Ernst, who served in Iraq as a lieutenant colonel with the Iowa Army National Guard, said McCain “gives everybody a fair shot at issues that are important to them.”

“There are a number of us though who do have previous military experience, so I think it’s a very smart move that he has us involved,” she added.

When asked, McCain struck an almost paternal tone.

“I try to get them heavily involved because they’re the next generation,” he said.

“The way I started out, I didn’t wait to observe a lot of seniority. When I came here as a freshman, I thought I had the experience and background not to have to sit back and observe, which is one of the reasons why I got that term, ‘a maverick.’ It wasn’t because I bowed to the wishes of the committee chairmen always,” he added.

Some of McCain’s work for the freshmen preceded their own elections; he campaigned for both Tillis and Ernst during the 2014 midterms.

McCain stressed he’s trying to get the rookies involved “in every way that I can.”

“And I try to give them all credit, too,” he joked.