Arizona politics headed eastward to New York’s North Country on Monday, as President Donald Trump signed a Pentagon policy bill there named after one of his frequent nemeses, Republican John McCain, who went unmentioned by the president, and singled out for praise a woman seeking to become McCain’s Senate colleague: Rep. Martha McSally.
McSally made the trip across the country to the Army’s Fort Drum and was rewarded with a shout-out from Trump, although not an endorsement.
That was more than McCain got. Despite the Fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill being named after the senior Arizona senator and Armed Services Committee chairman, and who is fighting cancer back in the Grand Canyon State, the president made no mention of McCain.
“I’ve gotten to know her very well, and she is terrific,” Trump said of McSally, after touting her resume as an Air Force veteran and the nation’s first female fighter pilot to fly a mission in combat.
McSally is seeking the seat being vacated by the retirement of Sen. Jeff Flake, and she faces an Aug. 28 primary against former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former State Sen. Kelli Ward.
Trump Praises McSally, Criticizes the Media at NDAA Signing Event
That led National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner of Colorado to ask the president to endorse McSally, which he didn’t quite do on stage during the official event in upstate New York.
A GOP source with knowledge of the discussion confirmed Politico’s report that Gardner has asked Trump to endorse McSally, but Trump was non-committal. Trump has spoken warmly of Arpaio for years, and last year he pardoned the former lawman after he was convicted of criminal contempt related to civil rights violations by his department directed toward immigrants.
McCain has been a regular target of presidential ridicule from Trump, who has mocked the senator’s thumbs down vote against the Senate GOP bill to roll back parts of the 2010 health care law. And of course, Trump has over the years criticized McCain for having been captured and tortured by North Vietnamese forces while fighting for America during the Vietnam War.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., represents Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division, and was in effect the host of the NDAA signing event on Monday afternoon. Trump said Stefanik called him repeatedly to encourage a visit to the base. Trump said he had expressed that it would be near-impossible to make the trip to upstate New York because of other scheduling considerations.
“That didn’t stop, and here I am,” Trump said before calling Stefanik up on stage.
Stefanik and McSally were two of several members of the House to make the New York trip. Trump was scheduled to travel later Monday south to Utica, N.Y., for a campaign fundraising event and a meeting with supporters.
This is the first time the defense authorization bill has been enacted before the start of the fiscal year since the fiscal 1997 measure was signed into law on Sept. 23, 1996 by President Bill Clinton.
Bridget Bowman and Andrew Clevenger contributed to this report.