Republican Lawmakers Re-elected to Key Defense Panels

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. waves to supporters at his victory party as wife Cindy McCain joins him on stage as he announces his victory over Democratic challenger Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick Nov. 8, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. waves to supporters at his victory party as wife Cindy McCain joins him on stage as he announces his victory over Democratic challenger Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick Nov. 8, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

President-elect Donald Trump's ambitious plans to reform and rebuild the military will have to get past the easily re-elected chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees who refused to endorse him.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and the chairman of the Senate panel, will preside over hearings for a successor to defense secretary, as well nominations for service secretaries and the top uniformed leadership.

McCain, whose heroism as a Vietnam prisoner of war was mocked by Trump during the campaign, withdrew his reluctant endorsement of Trump in response to the candidate's vulgar comments about women while stressing that he would not vote for Trump's Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

However, on Wednesday, McCain posted on Twitter in abbreviation: "Congrats to President-Elect Donald Trump - as Chrmn of Armed Services Cmte I'll work to confront nat'l security challenges & support troops."

After defeating Democratic challenger Ann Kirkpatrick 53-41 percent, McCain told supporters that he will "extend an open hand to our new president and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to solve our problems together as fellow Americans, who have more in common than we have differences."

Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House defense panel, was also in a somewhat awkward position after winning re-election against libertarian and Green Party challengers with early results showing Thornberry taking more than 90 percent of the vote.

Thornberry's refusal to endorse Trump goes back to June. He said then, "If you endorse somebody, it's like a stamp of approval and embracing them. I'm not comfortable doing that with him based on a number of reasons."

Before Trump emerged as the winner early Wednesday, Thornberry told supporters, "I'm hopeful that we can actually get some things done" in the next Congress. "Now, what gets done is going to depend on who gets elected and how much we can agree. There are a lot of details."

Thornberry will have a major role in the upcoming battle over the annual defense policy bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act in the lame duck session of Congress. The bill is now under a continuing resolution and it was unclear whether Congress would simply pass a similar stopgap funding measure to await Trump's inauguration.

Neither McCain, who won re-election to his sixth term, nor Thornberry, who will be serving his 12th two-year term, attended the Republican National Convention that nominated Trump.

Also winning re-election was McCain's fellow Arizona Republican in the House and A-10 Thunderbolt II close air support pioneer Martha McSally. In December 2014, McSally was declared the winner following a vote recount in Arizona's 2nd district. Like McCain, McSally has over 20 years of military experience -- she flew the A-10 over Iraq and Kuwait, and retired as an Air Force colonel.

In another election surprise, incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte was defeated by New Hampshire's governor Democrat Maggie Hassan. Ayotte heads up the Senate Armed Services Committee's Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee. She has also been a critic of President Barack Obama's strategy to defeat the Islamic State, or ISIS.

A handful of notable and veteran lawmakers also won't be returning to the counterpart panel in the House.

Illinois Democrat Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee from the Iraq War who retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Illinois Army National Guard, won her bid for a Senate seat after unseating Republican Sen. Mark Kirk.

Virginia Republican Rep. Randy Forbes, chairman of the panel's Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, lost his seat during the June primary to state Delegate Scott Taylor, who won again on Tuesday.

Nevada Republican Rep. Joe Heck, a doctor and brigadier general in the Army Reserves and chairman of the committee's Military Personnel Subcommittee, sought to take Sen. Harry Reid's capture in the Senate but lost to Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the Senate.

California Democrat Rep. Loretta Sanchez, the ranking member of the panel's Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, also lost her bid for a Senate seat to California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

--Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

--Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.

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