Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) came out against Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to be CIA director, on Wednesday after her confirmation hearing in the Senate.
In a break with President Trump, McCain urged his Senate colleagues to vote against Haspel, charging that “her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”
McCain said Haspel in speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee failed to address his concerns about her role in an enhanced interrogation program during the George W. Bush administration. The methods used in that program are now widely regarded as torture.
Haspel cannot afford to lose any additional Republican support. McCain is recovering from surgery related to his brain cancer in Arizona and was not expected to be present when the Senate votes on Haspel’s nomination. With McCain out and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) opposed, Haspel still needs support from at least one Democratic senator as well as every other Republican to be confirmed.
“Like many Americans, I understand the urgency that drove the decision to resort to so-called enhanced interrogation methods after our country was attacked. I know that those who used enhanced interrogation methods and those who approved them wanted to protect Americans from harm. I appreciate their dilemma and the strain of their duty,” McCain said in a statement Wednesday.
“But as I have argued many times, the methods we employ to keep our nation safe must be as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world.”
McCain said that he believes Haspel “is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense.”
“However, Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying,” he continued. “I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.”
McCain was tortured as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. He had previously expressed skepticism about Haspel’s nomination.
Haspel’s ties to the interrogation program led to a contentious confirmation hearing on Wednesday in which Senate Democrats drilled down on her views on the subject. She did not answer when Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) repeatedly asked if Haspel believes past interrogation techniques were “immoral.”
However, she pledged that she would not bring back the program.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Wednesday that he will support Haspel’s nomination. Several other GOP senators remain on the fence.
McCain’s opposition to Haspel’s nomination marked the latest instance in which the Arizona senator broke with Trump.
The president drew harsh criticism during the 2016 campaign when he disputed that McCain is a war hero, saying he prefers war heroes “who weren’t captured.”
Since Trump’s election, McCain has frequently spoken out against Trump’s rhetoric and the “spurious nationalism” sweeping the country, and wrote critically of Trump in his upcoming book.
In addition, McCain delivered the decisive vote to kill an ObamaCare repeal effort in the Senate last summer.