WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Senate began considering Gina Haspel’s nomination to head the CIA, one voice was noticeably missing.
Across the country, Republican Sen. John McCain remained at home in Arizona battling brain cancer as the debate Wednesday quickly turned to the past use of enhanced interrogation techniques, now banned, that President Donald Trump has suggested perhaps should return.
Haspel, the CIA’s acting director and a career intelligence officer, answered one question after another about her role – some senators asked about her morals – in overseeing some CIA operations in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. She told them she doesn’t believe torture works.
McCain’s absence hung over the conversation. As a Navy pilot held in captivity during the Vietnam War, and as a leader of those urging the George W. Bush administration to put an end to the harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA, what he would have to say about Haspel mattered.
Not until Washington had all but finished for the evening did McCain speak up from afar.
“Like many Americans, I understand the urgency that drove the decision to resort to so-called enhanced interrogation methods after our country was attacked,” the 81-year-old senator said in a statement.
Haspel, he said, was offered an opportunity to explain her involvement and “account for the mistakes the country made in torturing detainees.”
McCain, who had expressed reservations when Trump initially nominated her, remained unsatisfied.
“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,” he said.
“I believe Gina 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 added, “The Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.”
McCain’s decision will certainly influence the debate, but it was unclear whether it would halt confirmation. There might not be a repeat of that dramatic moment last summer when he returned to Washington to cast the deciding “no” vote that shelved the GOP’s plan to undo the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
While the GOP’s narrow hold on the Senate, 51-49, has been further slimmed with McCain’s absence, Haspel appeared to be gaining support. At least one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, announced he would vote in her favor. Vice President Mike Pence can be relied on to break a tie. McCain’s longtime ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said he expects Haspel will be confirmed.
If anything, the views of McCain will be heard.
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