U.S. Sen. John McCain's vow to hold a Senate hearing if alleged Army deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is allowed to avoid prison could push the controversy into the 2016 presidential campaign, further feeding Republicans' attacks of President Obama's foreign policy record, a GOP pundit predicted.
"I don't know if that was necessarily John McCain's intent ... but this certainly has the potential to move from an issue inside the Beltway to a 2016 presidential campaign issue," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, who noted with Congress' full plate, any hearing -- combined with the U.S. Army's uncertain timeline on how it will proceed -- wouldn't likely happen until next year.
"On the Republican side, this is a very big deal," O'Connell said. "It's something we're going to revisit down the line, no matter what, not just with Bowe Bergdahl. This issue with terrorism, it's not going to go away."
Republicans already have been hitting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the deadly Benghazi attack, and attacking Obama's handling of the Syrian revolt, the Islamic State, Russia's invasion of the Ukraine and the Iran nuclear deal. The Herald reported yesterday that McCain said he'd call a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee if Bergdahl "has no punishment," igniting a spirited defense from Bergdahl's attorney, who called McCain's comments "disturbing" and "unlawful."
Bergdahl, 29, was captured by the Taliban in 2009 and held for five years after -- military prosecutors charged -- he deserted his post in Afghanistan. He returned home last year after President Obama traded five high-ranking Taliban commanders detained at Guantanamo Bay for him, a move that drew sharp rebukes, especially from Republicans.
The head of the U.S. Army Forces Command will ultimately decide whether the case should be referred to a court-martial, though no timeline has been set for that decision.
Other committee members could not be reached for comment yesterday.