Brett McGurk, the White House’s pick to be the ambassador to Iraq, is slated for a Tuesday vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But we’re hearing that the controversial nominee could get bumped off the panel’s agenda in the face of mounting criticism on and off the committee.
Six Republicans on the panel on Wednesday sent a letter to the White House asking them to withdraw McGurk’s name. And the opposition to McGurk isn’t just coming from their side of the aisle. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the panel’s number-two Democrat, is said to have deep reservations about him, too.
“There are strong concerns about Mr. McGurk’s qualifications, his ability to work with Iraqi officials, and now his judgment,” the GOP letter states. It is signed by Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Jim Risch of Idaho, Marco Rubio of Florida, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Mike Lee of Utah.
McGurk’s path to securing the nomination got more complicated last week, when a racy e-mail exchange surfaced between McGurk and a Wall Street Journal reporter covering him. In the letter, the senators said such “unprofessional conduct ... will affect the nominee’s credibility in the country where he has been nominated to serve.”
They also indicate that they were not previously aware of the e-mails, which were posted online anonymously last week. “The fact that this information was not disclosed to Senators is also disconcerting,” they wrote.
The e-mail exchanges date from when McGurk was working in Iraq for the National Security Council under then-President George W. Bush. Reporter Gina Chon was stationed in Baghdad and the two struck up a romantic relationship. They are now married, and Chon on Tuesday announced her resignation from the Journal.
In the e-mails, the two joke about McGurk providing Chon with information and access. And while the e-mails don’t indicate that McGurk actually shared any sensitive information with Chon, they come at a time when the Senate is focused on stanching national security leaks.
Even in the face of controversy, the White House stood by its man.
“We believe the United States will be greatly served by Mr. McGurk’s experience in Iraq, which is substantial,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
Other concerns about McGurk predate the e-mail exchange being revealed. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had previously criticized McGurk’s handling of U.S. policy in Iraq, including the inability of U.S. and Iraqi negotiators to reach a deal that would have left a small U.S. military presence behind. All U.S. combat troops left Iraq last year after those negotiations broke down.
In the letter, the Republican members of the Foreign Relations Committee echoed that criticism, noting that McGurk played a “lead role” in the “botched” negotiations.