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Iran may be on the path to developing nuclear weapons, and North Korea could be hoping to lob a missile directly at the United States one day. Still, the Senate’s biggest defense hawk isn’t pushing as hard as his House counterparts are for more robust nuclear development and missile defense.
“It’s not the highest on our priority list,” Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain said in an interview.
It’s not that McCain isn’t concerned about America’s enemies developing nuclear capabilities or that he wants the United States to back down from an aggressive stance when it comes to missile defense. The defense authorization bill that he sponsors includes more money for long-range missiles that specifically are used to deflect nuclear warheads. He, like many Republicans, is also upset with the Obama administration for pushing a nuclear deal with Iran, saying White House officials are “so desperate for an agreement, they will agree to just about anything.”
It’s just that this isn’t McCain’s fight. In the Senate’s defense authorization bill, he is steering clear of new mandates to bolster the nuclear capabilities that appear in the House version. The House bill, for example, includes a provision requiring the Pentagon to research “countervailing U.S. responses” to Russia that can be deployed in two years if Russia continues to violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
A Senate aide described the difference between the House and the Senate on nuclear weapons this way: The House has a stronger “missile-defense support group” than the Senate. McCain is focused on other issues.
“They love missile defense in the House,” concurred John Isaacs, a senior fellow at the anti-nuclear advocacy group Council for a Livable World. “The Senate committee moderates it and gets compromises.”