Deputy Secretary of Defense nominee Ashton Carter's path to confirmation looks clear following the endorsement of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who had previously threatened to stall his nomination.
The Cable reported last month that Cornyn was demanding assurances from Carter that he would fully support the F-35 jet fighter program before he could support his nomination. "As the Senate prepares to consider your nomination, I write to express disappointment with your apparent lack of commitment to the success of the largest DOD major acquisition program in our nation's history, the F-35 Lightning II," Cornyn wrote in a letter to Carter.
Following Carter's nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, The Cable caught up with Cornyn in the halls of the Capitol building. The Texas senator told us he met with Carter, received written answers to all his questions, and could now confidently support his confirmation.
"Dr. Carter assured me that the F-35 will form the backbone of U.S. air combat for generations to come, and I applaud him for improving the execution of this critical program," Cornyn told The Cable.
The Cable has also obtained Carter's written response to Cornyn, which included assurances that the Defense Department was committed to the F-35, would not take more money from the production budget to purchase older model fighters, would not significantly reduce production rates, and would not take money from the F-35 program to pay for other struggling accounts within the Pentagon.
"The Department's support for the F-35 program is strong," Carter wrote. "We are committed to ensuring that decisions concerning the F-35 are made for the correct reasons and with a commitment toward overall F-35 program success."
"Thanks to Dr. Carter, it's on a good pathway," Cornyn said, explaining that one assurance Carter had given him was that future cost overruns would be borne by the contractor alone.
"The problem is, as Dr. Carter said, there is no alternative to the Joint Strike Fighter and it's essential to national security," Cornyn noted, adding that he expects Carter's nomination to pass easily.
We also asked Cornyn for an update on his plan to try to pressure the Obama administration into selling 66 new F-16 C/D jet fighters to Taiwan. Cornyn introduced a bill this week that seeks to require the administration to make the sale, which, if successful, would be the first time ever that Congress has authorized a foreign military sale not sent to them by the executive branch.
Cornyn said that he would try to attach the bill, which he cosponsored with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), to a piece of legislation "that's likely to get signed" -- presumably the defense authorization bill or the coming continuing resolution stopgap funding measure that Congress will have to pass this month to keep the government running.
The administration has promised Cornyn it will announce its decision on Taiwan arms sales by Oct. 1, but reports suggest that the administration is planning to deny Taipei's request for new planes and offer instead upgrades to their existing fleet of older F16 A/B models.
"Sen. Menendez and I felt it was important to indicate that the issue isn't going to go away," Cornyn said. "The president could veto it if it passes, we'll see what happens. I would hope that the president would make this moot by approving the sale and not kow-towing to China."