Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will oppose President Trump's pick to oversee the federal budget, a defection that could bring yet more trouble for the new president as he seeks congressional support to staff his new administration.
McCain declared his opposition in a speech on the floor of the Senate Wednesday, saying that he and Trump's nominee, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), could not agree on military spending. McCain supports an increase, but Mulvaney is an uncompromising advocate of reduced federal outlays.
If McCain's opposition inspires other advocates of an increased budget for the Pentagon in the Senate to join him, Mulvaney's nomination could be in jeopardy — although two prominent hawks, Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), continue to support Mulvaney for one of the most consequential positions in the Cabinet.
In the speech, McCain noted that Trump had committed to greater military expenditures, but that Mulvaney had supported reductions. “We must rebuild our military while at the same time putting our nation on a sustainable long-term fiscal path. We can and must do both,” McCain said. “Unfortunately, Congressman Mulvaney has spent his last six years in the House of Representatives pitting the national debt against our military.”
Cotton was expected to address the nomination on the floor later Wednesday, a spokeswoman said. Graham, who introduced his fellow South Carolinian at his confirmation hearings, reiterated his support.
“I back him 100 percent,” Graham said.
McCain's objections add to the unusual level of opposition, on both sides of the aisle in the Senate, to Trump's nominees for his Cabinet.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump's nominee for secretary of labor, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his name from consideration due to rumored opposition from GOP senators. Last week, Vice President Pence was forced to cast a historic vote to break a tie in the Senate in favor of Trump's pick for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was confirmed only after senior GOP statesmen persuaded Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to give up his initial objections and support the former chief of ExxonMobil.
Mulvaney could little afford more Republican defections. His opposition to federal funding for disaster and emergency relief and his support for reductions in entitlements is likely to turn off Democrats in the Senate.
“At his hearing, Congressman Mulvaney reaffirmed his support for cutting Medicare and raising the retirement age for Social Security,” Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) said in a statement opposing the nomination. She added that her constituents “have paid into the system for decades and they deserve the benefits they’ve earned.”
Mulvaney has also received criticism for his failure to pay employment taxes for a household employee between 2000 and 2004.
Mulvaney told senators that he had rectified the issue by shelling out $16,000 in taxes due. In past administrations, however, similar omissions have caused sufficient scandal to scuttle nominees for the Cabinet, including former senator Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), whom President Barack Obama nominated in 2009.
As director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump administration, Mulvaney would be responsible for making crucial choices about federal spending.
“You write the budget, and by doing so, you are making value decisions,” said Jim Nussle, a former GOP congressman from Iowa who directed the office under President George W. Bush. “I said, 'No,' a lot, because I was the person tasked with that responsibility.”
If Mulvaney is confirmed despite his differences with McCain, he could have more serious disagreements to manage in his new post. Trump's nomination of Mulvaney for the position seemed to be at odds with much of Trump's rhetoric as a candidate, which suggested he favored more federal spending, not less.
Besides the question of the military, Trump and Mulvaney will also have to reconcile potentially conflicting views on entitlements and public works. Trump has said he opposes changes to Social Security and Medicare, and the president favors substantial new spending on infrastructure.
Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report.