Senate panel stalls nominee who called assault rifle sales ‘insane’

Greg Nash

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday declined to move forward with a top Defense Department nominee after he made bold comments on gun control and military abortion policy during a committee hearing earlier this week.

Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters that lawmakers still “have a number of questions” — specifically on “guns and abortions” — for Dean Winslow, the nominee for assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs.

Winslow during a Tuesday hearing said he thinks it’s “insane” that civilians can buy assault rifles in the United States. That remark came just days after a deadly mass shooting in Texas.

McCain at the time interrupted Winslow, telling him, “I don’t think that’s in your area of responsibility or expertise.”

“That’s the way we do business,” McCain said of not yet moving forward Winslow’s nomination. “We have people before the committee, if there’s additional questions we honor other members’ right to ask additional questions and get answers.”

McCain said he was not satisfied with Winslow’s testimony.

“We’ll see what we’ve asked additional questions, we’ll see what we’ve given him every chance to make his case,” McCain said.

Also during Tuesday’s hearing, Winslow’s written answers on abortion drew criticism from the committee chair.

Winslow wrote in the submitted questionnaire that he believes “that therapeutic abortion services should be provided by the military in appropriately staffed facilities.”

“What do you mean by that?” McCain asked after he read the answer out loud.

Winslow clarified that therapeutic abortions refer to situations in which the mother’s life is in danger. Federal law does not allow military medical facilities or Defense Department dollars to be used to provide abortions except in certain circumstances. 

“You may want to clean up this abortion issue, OK? … Or you’re going to have trouble getting it through the Senate,” McCain cautioned.

McCain also said he was disturbed by Winslow’s comments on how to improve the health care available to soldiers and veterans.

“We are not happy with this state of military health care, doctor. And I think you ought to understand that, before we confirm you,” McCain said.

Asked if Winslow was out of place to make the comments he did, McCain told reporters: “I’ll leave that to others to judge, but I happen to be pro-life and I happen to believe what he said was not pro-life.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday did move forward the three nominees who testified alongside Winslow in Tuesday’s hearing: Robert Behler for director of operational test and evaluation, Thomas Modly for Navy undersecretary and James Geurts for Navy assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition.

Tags John McCain

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