WASHINGTON — The senior Republicans on the Senate Armed Services split Thursday over the White House’s intention to give Gen. Martin Dempsey a second term as Joint Chiefs chairman.
Sens. James Inhofe and John McCain have plenty in common. Both are defense-minded Republicans. Both hail from southwestern states, Inhofe from Oklahoma and McCain from Arizona. Inhofe is the sitting SASC ranking member, a seat he inherited from McCain in January.
But the two don’t always agree on Pentagon policy and spending matters. Add to that list the question of whether Dempsey deserves a second term as the US military’s top officer.
“I don’t have any concerns at this time,” Inhofe told Defense News on Thursday afternoon.
The SASC’s top Republican added it’s too soon to know whether Dempsey’s July 18 confirmation hearing before the panel will be tense or a cakewalk.
But, moments later, Defense News spoke to the feisty McCain, one of Dempsey’s biggest congressional critics.
“Oh yes. I have significant concerns,” McCain said in a brief interview, citing “Syria and other aspects of his leadership.”
McCain said there are a number of issues on which he has “significant questions about.”
When pressed by reporters to explain which parts of the chairman’s leadership he finds troubling, McCain responded: “Too many to note.”
In Februrary, McCain panned Dempsey in a fiery exchange during a Feb. 8 hearing about the deadly September 2012 attack on a US facility in Benghazi, Libya.
McCain, labeled Dempsey's prepared statement to the committee, in which he said the US military was unable to position forces closer to Benghazi before the attack, "the most bizarre" opening statement he has ever seen a witness bring to the committee chamber.
The SASC senior Republicans’ split came hours after Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told Defense News he is “hopeful” Dempsey will be confirmed for a second two-year term rather smoothly.
“But you just never know here,” Levin said, indicating he would not be surprised if a senator — or a group of them — made Dempsey’s second Joint Chiefs confirmation process a somewhat-rocky one.
Notably, McCain struck a much different tone on Dempsey than one of his Senate “Three Amigos” colleagues, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a fellow SASC member.
“I like Gen. Dempsey,” Graham said in an interview. “I don’t agree with him on multiple fronts, but I think he’s served our country well.”