Senate armed services committee Chairman John McCain threatened Tuesday to block President Donald Trump’s deputy defense secretary nominee.
McCain charged that Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan was ducking questions during his confirmation hearing, particularly over his response in a written statement that he would look into providing military assistance to Ukraine.
In a questionnaire submitted to the committee Shanahan argued he needed to look at the issue more closely when confirmed because he did not have access to classified information.
“The provision of lethal defensive equipment as part of our already robust security assistance program is an option I plan to look at closely if I am confirmed,” he wrote. “I do not have access to classified assessments of the performance of the Ukrainian and Russian militaries in the course of the conflict, and particularly the impact of the security assistance we have provided thus far. I plan to examine this issue closely.”
“Inexplicably, you responded by saying you’d have to look at the issue,” McCain said at Tuesday’s hearing. “It’s not satisfactory. Mr. Shanahan.”
Shanahan responded by telling McCain that he did support providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, but that did not satisfy the Arizona Republican.
“Not a good beginning. Do not do that again Mr. Shanahan, or I will not take your name up for a vote before this committee. Am I perfectly clear?” McCain said.
“Very clear,” Shanahan responded.
When McCain finished his questions, things didn’t improve for Shanahan, as the Arizona senator complained again after Nebraska Republican Sen. Deb Fischer finished her questions.
“Mr. Shanahan, you’re not making me happy,” McCain said. “I’m not going to sit here and watch you duck every question and expect that everything is going to go smoothly. It’s not.”
The resistance from McCain is the latest sign of trouble for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ Pentagon as it attempts to staff up. McCain has complained that the Pentagon has been slow to propose nominees, urging them to send them to the committee so he can confirm them.
But McCain is known to get upset from time to time at confirmation hearings. When former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey was up for re-nomination in 2013, McCain briefly threatened to hold up his confirmation before relenting.
On Tuesday, McCain also appeared to take issue with Shanahan’s experience as a former Boeing executive.
“You have been associated for the last I don’t know how many years with one of the five corporations that provide 90% of the defensive weaponry, the weaponry to defend this nation,” McCain said. “And your answer was well I’d have to look at the issue. That’s not good enough Mr. Shanahan.”
McCain has a long history of clashing with Boeing, from his investigative efforts over the company’s tanker deal with the Air Force more than a decade ago that ultimately sent Boeing executives to prison to his recent fights over Boeing’s United Launch Alliance venture that uses Russian-made rocket engines.