John McCain Not Happy With Trump’s NSC Shake-up or the Entry Ban

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Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Saturday night, as protesters streamed into airports around the United States to protest his ban on refugees and citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations, President Trump signed an executive order reorganizing the National Security Council. Most notably, Trump added senior adviser Steve “Darkness Is Good” Bannon to the NSC’s elite Principals Committee while diminishing the roles of the director of National Intelligence and chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who will now only attend the group’s meetings “where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.”

Bannon is best known for heading alt-right clearinghouse Breitbart News, making him an unexpected addition to the Principals Committee, which guides the president on national security policy and is supposed to at least appear nonpolitical. Bannon’s Bush-era counterpart, Karl Rove, was not allowed at NSC meetings. Top Obama adviser David Axelrod attended some meetings, though he never had a standing invitation, as Bannon now does. “The last place you want to put somebody who worries about politics is in a room where they’re talking about national security,” Obama’s former Defense secretary and CIA director, Leon Panetta, told the New York Times. Former Defense secretary and CIA director Robert Gates, who served under both Bush and Obama, said that the demotions of the National Intelligence director and the Joint Chiefs of Staff chair were “a big mistake” (though he wasn’t “bothered” by Bannon’s new gig). Obama’s former national security adviser, Susan Rice, called the NSC reshuffling “stone cold crazy.”

Press secretary Sean Spicer defended the shake-up, saying it would “streamline” decision-making, and pointed to Bannon’s time in the Navy and his “tremendous understanding of the world and the geopolitical landscape” as proof that he was qualified to be on the committee. But many, including Senator John McCain, remained skeptical. “The role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been diminished, I understand, with this reorganization. The one person who is indispensable would be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in my view,” said McCain on Sunday’s Face the Nation. “I am worried about the National Security Council. Who are the members of it and who are the permanent members? The appointment of Mr. Bannon is something which is a radical departure from any National Security Council in history.”

That wasn’t the only Trump-related criticism McCain had this weekend. Also on Sunday, he and fellow Republican senator Lindsey Graham issued a joint statement on the president’s entry ban: “It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump’s executive order was not properly vetted,” they said. “We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security. We fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”

A few other Republicans — including Senators Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake, and Bob Corker, as well as Representatives Raul Labrador, Michael McCaul, and Charlie Dent — questioned various aspects of the order and its execution over the weekend, but only McCain and Graham managed to get a response from Trump on Twitter:

McCain Not Happy With Trump’s NSC Shake-up or the Entry Ban