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McCain Threatens Gridlock Over Army Mental-Health Waivers
WASHINGTON — A slate of Pentagon nominees faced off with a Senate panel Tuesday about the changes facing military recruiting today, as one key senator warned that confirmation hearings could be stalled again if the Pentagon doesn’t cooperate with new demands for information.
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee raised questions during a hearing regarding an apparent change in Army recruiting efforts to issue waivers for people with a history of serious mental health illness.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said his committee shouldn’t have learned about the change through a USA Today report Sunday, and if more information isn’t forthcoming, the Pentagon nomination process could get stalled again.
“I don’t envision a confrontation,” McCain said of another delay over nominees. “But there may be.”
The comments, along with McCain’s plans to investigate the recruiting matter, came after a hearing for three Pentagon nominees vying for top military leadership positions, including Army general counsel.
During Tuesday’s hearing, McCain said that the committee’s recourse is to stop approving nominations if the Pentagon continues to keep defense hawks on Capitol Hill out of the loop on major military concerns.
The standoff between the committee and the Pentagon over nominees is familiar territory under President Donald Trump’s administration.
In October, McCain said he was holding Pentagon nominations hostage at least in part because of a disconnect between Congress and top military officials. McCain railed that the officials, including longtime friend and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, were not forthcoming on several major concerns, including two deadly Navy ship collisions this summer, a change in war strategy in Afghanistan under loosened rules of engagement and the ambush last month in Niger that killed four American soldiers.
By late October, the committee saw a turn of events with several public and closed hearings on the Navy ship collisions, war strategy and Niger. A threat of a McCain subpoena on the Niger ambush triggered a personal Capitol Hill visit from Mattis.
With the floodgates reopened, the Armed Services Committee is poised to hear from 17 nominees this month – close to the same number who testified before the panel in the first seven months of Trump’s presidency. The committee has confirmed more than 10 nominees this month.
“We’re talking about getting information, just like we did a couple of weeks ago when we had to find out about Niger,” McCain said.
On Tuesday, the committee also approved Robert H. McMahon as assistant secretary of defense for logistics and material readiness; R.D. James as assistant secretary of the Army for civil works; Bruce Jette as assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology; and Shon J. Manasco as assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs.
The committee also considered a new panel of nominees: James E. McPherson as Army general counsel, Anthony M. Kurta as principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Gregory E. Maggs as judge of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
McPherson said the change in Army recruiting raised questions for him as well, and it would be one of his top priorities should he be confirmed.
“That’s a troubling report,” he said. “I believe history has shown that when you bring in individuals through a waiver process, there’s a risk involved in that, a risk that they might not turn out to be exemplary soldiers. If confirmed, I intend that to make that one of my earlier questions.”
In additional testimony, McPherson said as Army general counsel he would tackle a long list of challenges.
“The Army today faces some very difficult legal issues ranging from personnel programs such as gender integration into the combat arms, the service of transgender soldiers, and the accession of non-US citizens to the need to improve the efficiency and flexibility of the acquisition process and to the scourge of sexual harassment, sexual assault and retribution against those that report such offenses,” he said. But with help of the Army, McPherson said they “will attack these issues with renewed energy and resolve to finding solutions.”
Kurta, who is vying to become principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, testified that he doesn’t see a recruiting future without members of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“There are skills that population has that the Department of Defense needs,” he said. “I see a future where the department is able to recruit from that non-U.S. citizen population.”
©2017 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Senior defense officials offered a wide range of excuses to reporters on Wednesday about why they may not comply with a subpoena from House Democrats for documents related to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
On Oct. 7, lawmakers subpoenaed information about military aid to Ukraine. Eight days later, a Pentagon official told them to pound sand in part because many of the documents requested are communications with the White House that are protected by executive privilege.
Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) will announce legislation Wednesday aiming to "fix" a new Trump administration citizenship policy that affects some children of U.S. service members stationed abroad.
The inside story of how The Village People shot the Navy's most controversial recruiting video onboard an active warship
The video opens innocently enough. A bell sounds as we gaze onto a U.S. Navy frigate, safely docked at port at Naval Base San Diego. A cadre of sailors, dressed in "crackerjack" style enlisted dress uniforms and hauling duffel bags over their shoulders, stride up a gangplank aboard the vessel. The officer on deck greets them with a blast of a boatswain's call. It could be the opening scene of a recruitment video for the greatest naval force on the planet.
Then the rhythmic clapping begins.
This is no recruitment video. It's 'In The Navy,' the legendary 1979 hit from disco queens The Village People, shot aboard the very real Knox-class USS Reasoner (FF-1063) frigate. And one of those five Navy sailors who strode up that gangplank during filming was Ronald Beck, at the time a legal yeoman and witness to one of the strangest collisions between the U.S. military and pop culture of the 20th century.
"They picked the ship and they picked us, I don't know why," Beck, who left the Navy in 1982, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview from his Texas home in October. "I was just lucky to be one of 'em picked."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.
"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."
Well, I feel better. How about you?
On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.
A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."
"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.
President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.
"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."
The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."
Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.
"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.