McCain Hits Trump Budget Office Pick Mulvaney on Defense

WASHINGTON — Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain ripped President Trump’s fiscally conservative nominee to become the nation’s budget director as an “impediment” to funding the military. 

McCain angrily confronted Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., over a series of votes he made against military spending and to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Europe. 

“I am deeply concerned about your lack of support for our military and your continued votes of withdrawals when we see a world on fire, withdrawing troops from Europe,” McCain said during Mulvaney’s hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. 

“What were you thinking, honestly, when you voted for immediate withdraw of all US troops from Afghanistan?”

The hostility foreshadows an expected conflict between Mulvaney at the Office of Management and budget and congressional defense hawks. McCain has proposed $640 billion top-line for the 2018 defense budget, which House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, backs as well. 

Mulvaney, 49, is a spending hard-liner elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010. He has consistently rejected stop-gap spending resolutions and opposed the government’s need to increase its statutory borrowing limits to avoid default.

Lawmakers are wary of whether Mulvaney will support Trump’s aversion to entitlement cuts and his pledge to buildup the military. Mulvaney said he and Trump are “in lock-step” on defense. 

“Maybe you don’t take it with the seriousness that it deserves,” McCain said to Mulvaney about defense spending. “It’s clear from your record that you’ve been an impediment to that.”

In one exchange, with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mulvaney affirmed his deficit hawkishness is linked to national security concerns: “History has shown us that great nations have failed from within when they can’t manage their finances,” he said. 

Amid McCain’ questions and barbs, Mulvaney offered reassurances that he voted against the Budget Control Act, that government’s top priority is national defense, and that — while he had supported a past government shutdown — “will not be recommending the president govern by crisis.”

Mulvaney supports matching defense increases with non-defense cuts, but he offered a vague answer about what to do if there were no non-defense cuts: “I would lay out to the president what the implications would be,” he said. 

As to his vote to immediately withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, he said he was moved after a constituent who served in Vietnam asked him, through tears, to send his son home from the war.

“I was doing the best I could to represent the people of South Carolina,” Mulvaney said.

“Don’t you know where 9/11 came from,” McCain replied. “I know one thing about South Carolina: A majority of them don’t support a full withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan.”

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