WASHINGTON — Yet another potential Pentagon nominee is stepping away from a potential role in President Trump's administration, once again raising questions on how long it will take for the new administration to fully staff the Defense Department.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has withdrawn retired senior diplomat Anne Patterson as his choice for policy after the White House indicated unwillingness to fight what it said would be a battle for Senate confirmation, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Ted Cruz R-Tex., were strongly opposed to Patterson's nomination because she served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt from 2011 to 2013, according to the Post. The Obama administration, at the time, supported an elected government with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood that was ultimately overthrown by the Egyptian military.
"I believe that political appointees in the foreign policy and national security arena need to reflect the president's priorities, and Obama administration officials who helped implement the Obama willful blindness to radical Islamic terrorism and active appeasement of the Muslim Brotherhood do not reflect those commitments,"Cruz said Tuesday, confirming his objection to Patterson.
Asked whether there was a broader message to Mattis on how he forms his team, Cruz praised Mattis as "a strong and serious leader with decades of experience defending this country," and said he was "hopeful that the foreign policy and national security team assembled at [the Department of] Defense and throughout this nation will demonstrate the same clear-eyed realism and seriousness of resolve that is needed to keep this country safe."
Patterson served as the assistant secretary of state for near-eastern affairs from 2013 to 2017. She previously served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt until 2013 and as U.S. ambassador to Pakistan from 2007 to 2010.
Speaking broadly about the logjam for DoD nominees, SASC Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., repeated a call for the administration to move quicker on sending DoD appointees for Senate confirmation.
"I think it's very unfortunate that they haven't moved forward with these nominees," McCain said. "You can't expect [Mattis] to run the entire show."
Asked to comment on the Patterson news, McCain said Cotton and Cruz "can do what they want to do, but a principle that has been followed for five administrations is let the people surround themselves with the people who let them operate most effectively.
"I know Anne Patterson very well, I knew her when she was ambassador to Egypt. I think she is very talented," McCain said.
As of now, Mattis represents the only Senate-confirmed spot at the Pentagon, where over 50 spots remain open.
The only announced nominees for the department are Heather Wilson for Air Force Secretary and John Sullivan as general counsel. (Two other nominees — Vincent Viola for Secretary of the Army and Philip Bilden for Secretary of the Navy — have withdrawn their nominations.)
Rumors that the White House is on the verge of announcing a group of DoD nominees at once have circulated for weeks, but have yet to materialize. On Tuesday, McCain said he "heard the same rumors" but had no more information to share.
"It's pretty clear that there was faster movement under [Obama]," McCain said. "In 2009, we had seven on the first day, something like that. But really we have had very little under Mattis."
The practical effect for the Pentagon, McCain said, is that it is very hard to plan, particularly amid conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. "It's not helpful," he said.
Aaron Mehta in Washington contributed to this report.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.