For Ash Carter, Bipartisan Support and GOP Warnings of a Bumpy Tenure


WASHINGTON — Bipartisan support emerged Tuesday for the White House to nominate Ash Carter as defense secretary, but Republican members said he could face a rough road.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers told reporters, amid reports Carter soon will be officially nominated, that the former deputy defense secretary and Pentagon buying chief is eminently qualified for the post.

“He is very, very qualified,” said retiring Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

A list of defense-minded GOP lawmakers echoed Levin’s assessment, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who will be a member of the Republican majority on SASC that would run Carter’s confirmation process.

“I have a lot of respect for Ash Carter,” Ayotte said. “I think he has a strong resume and position. You know, whoever the president nominates is going to face a number of tough questions in the armed services committee.”

Levin believes Carter “would do very, very well in a confirmation hearing.”

“Offhand, I don’t foresee that there would be a big issue because I think he’s highly respected on both sides of the aisle,” Levin said.

But the confirmation process won’t be run by Levin’s successor on the panel, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. Rather, it will be run by Republicans led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and his allies.

Ayotte said Carter will face tough questions from SASC Republicans.

“We’ll find out what he thinks about what is happening,” she said. “I mean, listen, there’s a lot happening around the world that I’m very concerned with the administration’s policy on.

“And, if he’s their nominee, he’s going to have to come before the Armed Services Committee and really lay out what he thinks the vision should be for our national security policy,” Ayotte added, “and what he thinks needs to be done on [the Islamic State group] and Ukraine — and we can go on and on.”

Every interaction with GOP defense lawmakers on Tuesday could be summed up by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., an armed services committee member.

“He’s well-respected in the defense community,” Blunt began when asked for his reaction to the Carter scuttlebutt.

He then immediately pivoted to criticizing the Obama administration.

“But, at the end of the day, it’s hard to get someone to help you implement your strategy when you haven’t defined what your strategy is,” Blunt said.

He hinted that Republicans would make the confirmation process mostly about Obama and his foreign policy and national security track record.

“And that will be [Carter’s] biggest challenge I would think before the armed services committee and the Senate: Trying to explain what the president’s strategy really is and what they intend to do,” Blunt said.

Republican lawmakers praised Carter’s résumé and experience inside the Pentagon — but everyone interviewed for this article said for the next defense secretary to survive the remaining two years of Obama’s tenure, the president must change his approach.

“He’s a good guy,” retiring House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., told reporters of Carter Tuesday morning.

“It’s not the secretary. It’s the president,” McKeon said. “And he’s going to keep going through these guys unless they do just whatever he tells them to do.

“If the first thing they do when they get up in the morning is call the White House and he says, ‘Do something,’ and they say, ‘Yes, sir,’ and they go do it, regardless of the situation or what’s best to do, then he’ll be OK.”

The lawmaker who is set to replace McKeon as HASC chair, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Calif., said of Carter: “I have a lot of respect for him.”

“I hope that whoever gets the job has an understanding that he or she is going to do what’s best and not be micromanaged from the White House,” Thornberry said. “He knows the Pentagon. He certainly knows some of the acquisition issues I’ve been dealing with. So, we’ll see.”

Asked whether Obama should fire National Security Adviser Susan Rice or White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, both of whom have been criticized by administration officials, McKeon replied: “Both.”

Thornberry replied “I don’t know” when asked if Carter is the kind of potential defense secretary who can be effective with a White House that analysts say is among the most controlling on national security and foreign policy matters since the Nixon administration.

Several Democratic lawmakers sidestepped questions about an overbearing White House, but Senate Armed Services Committee Air Land subcommittee Chairman Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Ct., said Carter is suited to manage that dynamic.

“He is the ultimate push-backer,” Blumenthal said. “He refuses to be intimidated, as far as I’ve seen, or bullied by either the military or civilian leaders, and, I think, would be a strong leader.”

Back to Top