A few days ago, even before the tumultuous second weekend of President Donald Trump’s administration, his choice as budget chief, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., appeared headed for a tough Wednesday and Thursday of Senate confirmation votes.
Mulvaney had always been among the top targets for Senate Democrats who disagreed with his fierce devotion to fiscal conservatism. Then Arizona Sen. John McCain, a leading voice among Republicans on security matters, expressed displeasure over Mulvaney’s past commitment to budget cuts in defense.
That created some suspense as to how Mulvaney, nominated as director of the federal Office of Management and Budget, would fare Wednesday with the homeland security committee and Thursday with the budget committee, which will vote on whether to approve his nomination and send it to the full Senate. If approved as expected, the Senate might take a final vote as soon as late this week.
I’ll let you know.
Sen. John McCain, sounding less sure that he would oppose Rep. Mick Mulvaney in confirmation votes
Last week, McCain said he was leaning toward a “no” vote, which would have meant turmoil, though not doom, for the nomination. But asked Tuesday where his leanings had taken him, he made it clear he was not a certain “no.”
“I’ll let you know,” McCain said. It was hardly an endorsement, but it’s a softening of a position he’d taken during one of Mulvaney’s two confirmation hearing for the position. McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, said, “You’ve spent your entire congressional career pitting the debt against our military and each time, at least for you, our military was less important.”
During a week in which Republicans have broken ranks with Trump on issues ranging from executive orders on refugee travel restrictions to removing the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and director of national intelligence as principals at the National Security Council, there had been concerns that McCain’s lack of faith in Mulvaney could create a deeper, if not wider, breach between the president and Congress.
While a single Republican “no” vote would cause some uneasiness, it would hardly mean a Mulvaney rejection. Republicans control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats. With Vice President Mike Pence as the tiebreaker vote, it would take three Republicans breaking ranks and all Democrats standing in opposition. So far, among Republicans, only McCain has expressed reservations.
Outside of McCain, Mulvaney looks to have weathered questions about his devout anti-debt views and problems with failing to pay taxes on a former nanny and not filing the necessary paperwork to prove she was a legal worker in the United States.
Mulvaney got a boost when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., usually McCain’s partner in putting military matters first, described Mulvaney as a friend.
“I understand and respect Sen. McCain’s concerns about defense funding,” Graham said Tuesday. “But we have a president who believes in defense. I think that Mick will provide a level of understanding of the budget that will help us make a stronger defense.”
Other Republicans offered strong support. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina was always expected to back him, but he smiled when he was asked whether Mulvaney might be in trouble in the confirmation votes.
“I think he’ll be just fine,” Scott said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was equally unconcerned, saying, “He’s a good man, and a strong pick to lead OMB.”
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., also known as strong military advocate, said simply, “I don’t have any doubts that he’ll be confirmed.”
Mulvaney will have more trouble with Democrats, who have been vocal critics since his nomination was announced in December. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said he couldn’t speak for all Democrats, “but I intend to vote against him.”
Democratic votes won’t be enough to undo the confirmation, however. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.,a budget committee member, said the Mulvaney confirmation would signify a new era among Republicans.
“We’re coming to understand that we can’t be either military hawks or deficit hawks,” he said. “One of the greatest threats to American security that we face today is the national debt. We have to be hawkish on both matters if we want a secure future. For that, Mulvaney has the right experience and the right heart for OMB.”