Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) spoke with National Review Online this afternoon via telephone from Arizona. “Interesting times,” began McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. For him, it has been a rough week. He says he is frustrated with the “disgraceful” way Democrats are handling the defense authorization bill – specifically, their insistence in tying their attempt to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to the measure. On Thursday, the committee approved an amendment repealing the policy on a 16-to-12 vote.
“Once people realize what else is in this, there will be a lot of questions on the Senate floor,” McCain predicts. “It has more than just [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell]. They’ve put in a provision to allow abortions to be performed at military hospitals. They’ve also cut a billion dollars out of the authorization for the Iraqi military and stuffed in a billion dollars of earmarks.”
But it wasn’t all bad news for the senator. He shut down a couple of amendments, like the Democrats’ $245 million push for a new military detention facility in Illinois to house detainees from Guantanamo Bay. “Although Senator [Richard] Durbin [D., Ill.] was very patriotic about that, we can’t go around wasting taxpayers’ money when we have no actual policy in this country for dealing with detainees,” McCain says. He adds that he is “very pleased” that the committee approved his amendment to send 6,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.
McCain worries that Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.), the chairman of the committee, is giving the Democrats’ “social and campaign agenda” too much weight in the defense debate. “This reminds of me of last year, when he did the same thing for his party’s social agenda, inserting hate-crime legislation into the authorization bill,” McCain recalls. “We fought that like hell, but they still enacted it into law. They’re doing the same thing now. With the November elections looming, they don’t want to wait for the Defense Department’s study about how the implementation of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ would affect the military’s battle effectiveness and morale in a time of war. Wait a year for the study to be complete? They don’t want to hear that. They want to repeal the law, and then look at the study. It’s just crazy.” McCain pledges to do “what I can” to block a vote on the bill.
“This push by the Democrats is all about a campaign promise to a constituency by the president of the United States,” McCain says. “That’s what this is all about. Here we are fulfilling a campaign promise when we have the best trained, best equipped, best motivated, and most efficient military in history, with recruitment and retention at an all-time high. Sure, some of that has to do with the economy, but a lot of it has to do with many patriotic young Americans appreciating our armed forces being focused, as we should be, on our struggle against Islamic extremism.”