McCain Blocks Top Pentagon Civilian Picks

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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The key Republican flexed his legislative muscle, calling answers from Bob Work and Christine Wormuth 'nonsensical.' By Sara Sorcher

Sen. John McCain is blocking President Obama’s picks to fill senior Pentagon positions, calling their answers to questions at a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing Tuesday “naive” and “nonsensical.”

The Arizona Republican was visibly frustrated that Robert Work, Obama’s nominee for deputy Defense secretary, was not intimately familiar with a critical government report detailing cost overruns from the Littoral Combat Ship program.

Separately, McCain ripped Christine Wormuth, Obama’s pick for undersecretary of Defense for policy. The nominee, he said, was either ignorant of the threat al-Qaida poses or was refusing to answer his questions about the terrorist group’s spread.

Their answers were not only naive but nonsensical,” McCain told reporters Tuesday.

Want to know what happened, exactly?

Work, a former Navy undersecretary, has been a strong advocate of the Littoral Combat Ship program—a next-generation surface ship historically controversial for its delays and cost overruns. The Pentagon has instructed the Navy to scale back its planned purchase of 52 ships down to 32 ships.

After Work described the new plan as “very normal with Navy shipbuilding,” McCain interjected, asking if Work believes the “cost overruns” associated with the ship were normal.

The exchange is here:

Separately, McCain called out Wormuth for describing al-Qaida as a “nodal threat.” Earlier this month, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said al-Qaida was not on the path to defeat, and that the terrorist network is instead “morphing” as its franchises spread to hotspots around the world. Here’s what happened when McCain pressed for details about Wormuth’s slightly awkward phrasing:

Work and Wormuth otherwise had appeared to be relatively uncontroversial picks for their respective positions, despite an onslaught of tough questions from lawmakers about the Pentagon’s planned budget for next year.

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