It takes a lot to surprise Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has served in the chamber for nearly 30 years, but Thursday’s Foreign Relations Committee water bill debate did just that.
The committee considered a surprise effort by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. , to try to attach a Declaration of War against the terror group known as Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL to an unrelated water bill the committee was considering.
“It was the most bizarre meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee that I have ever attended in my life, or ever expected to attend,” McCain said.
“It’s a living, breathing argument against lame-duck sessions,” he said. Paul’s move was designed to spark a debate and vote in the committee on an Authorization for Use of Military Force.
In response, outgoing Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who also has been pushing for a new AUMF, was prepared to offer his own authorization as a substitute to the Paul war declaration amendment.
But Menendez held back after Paul agreed to not to offer his proposal. Paul relented after Menendez scheduled a hearing Monday and a vote Wednesday, when Paul plans to offer his amendment.
McCain was amazed that such a significant debate took place on "an obscure water bill,” he said
“You can’t make that up,” McCain said. “Where in that little book [about] how the laws are made does it say that a water bill gets a declaration of war on it? It was ludicrous.”
McCain said Thursday's debate and next week's hearing and vote won't amount to much because the full Senate will not take up any proposal the committee clears next week given the more pressing need to pass legislation to fund the government, extend tax breaks and authorize defense programs.
“There’s not a snowball’s chance in Gila Bend, Ariz., I promise you,” McCain said of an AUMF clearing the Senate before the end of the lame duck.
McCain also noted that he opposes the nominations of Antony Blinken to take over the number two spot at the State Department and Elissa Slotkin to be assistant secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs at the Pentagon.
McCain called them both “totally unqualified.” McCain has been critical of Blinken, who is currently deputy national security adviser, over his statements on Iraq.
Despite his opposition, McCain expects Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to use the waning hours of the lame duck to clear the nominations through the chamber.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended Blinken Thursday when asked about McCain’s opposition.
“Tony has a wealth of knowledge and practical experience on all of the major diplomatic challenges and opportunities that the United States faces today,” Earnest said.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report. The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.