The Cable

GOP senators struggle to list Romney’s qualifications to be commander-in-chief

Mitt Romney's foreign-policy and national security qualifications have come under intense scrutiny following the presumptive Republican nominee's controversy-laden trip abroad. In a series of interviews Thursday, several top GOP senators tried their best to explain exactly what Romney's credentials to be commander-in-chief are.

Your humble Cable guy roamed the hallways of the Capitol today, the last day before senators leave town for the five-week August recess, asking any Republicans we could find the same question: What are Mitt Romney's qualifications to be commander-in-chief?

The answers ranged from the fact that he led the state national guard as governor of Massachusetts to his extensive travel abroad to his two years as a missionary in France and his all-around management ability.

When The Cable asked that question to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in the elevator, who was standing alongside Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Franken started laughing and said, "I gotta hear this." Johnson is in charge of coordinating policy and messaging between the GOP Senate caucus and the Romney campaign. Johnson took a deep breath, thought about the question for another second, and then replied.

"Listen, he's certainly traveled the world in business, which is good," Johnson said, before another long pause.  He then pivoted to the economy. "Mitt Romney understands that if you are going to have strong national security you have to have good economic security and it starts there," Johnson said.

But what about Romney's experiences or credentials to lead the nation's military and foreign policy?

"Listen, you know what his experience is, and there are very few people who run for president who have all kinds of foreign-policy experience," Johnson said. "You rely on a strong foreign-policy team and that's what he'd do as well."

Senate Armed Services Committee member John Cornyn (R-TX) said that Romney will depend on those around him to manage national security and foreign policy.

"Well, of course, nobody who's never been president before has the experience but I think part of it is his leadership qualities and his intelligence and his character that will allow him to listen to the experts and do a good job," he said.

Senate Armed Services Committee member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said that Romney was a good manager and argued that the Defense Department, along with the rest of the federal government, could use better management.

"In truth, what maybe the greatest need for America is a commander-in-chief who can manage, who knows has to set priorities, and who can count costs and manage the departments and agencies," said Sessions. "I think the man has judgment. He seems to instinctively understand foreign policy and, of course, he was commander of the national guard."

Senate Armed Services Committee member and rumored vice presidential candidate Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) pointed to Romney's executive experience as governor of Massachusetts.

"First of all, he has been a governor, just like Ronald Reagan was, and that executive experience bodes well when you come into the presidency. And we've got a history in our country that those who have had that executive experience have been able to take on the foreign-policy issues," she said.

"And I also believe his personal educational background and his experience in the private sector and his having turned around the Olympics in Salt Lake -- when you put it together he's very qualified to be commander-in-chief," she added.

Ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain (R-AZ), whose 2008 campaign concluded that Romney had "no foreign policy experience," told The Cable today that Romney's qualifications to be commander-in-chief should be compared to then Sen. Barack Obama's qualifications when he ran for president.

"[Romney] has traveled extensively, beginning with when he was a Mormon missionary," McCain said. "He's had a 25-year relationship with [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu. He's very aware of all of those issues, and as governor of the state of Massachusetts, he dealt a lot with foreign leaders."

"He's got all the right instincts," McCain said.  "To me, he's Reaganesque."

Carsten Koall/Getty Images

The Cable

Senate reauthorizes ban on U.S. imports from Burma

The Senate approved a bill on Thursday that includes a provision reauthorizing the U.S. ban on imports from Burma by a unanimous vote.

The bill reauthorizes the ban on U.S. imports from Burma for three years, with a caveat whereby the president or his delegee, the secretary of state, could decide to wave that prohibition for one year.

Undersecretary of State Robert Hormats, who was in favor of the legislation, said on Tuesday during a speech in Washington that he expected the bill to pass and that it would provide an incentive to the Burmese government to continue with its democratic reforms.

"What we have said all long is that it's action for action," Hormats said about the process of easing sanctions on Burma, which began when President Barack Obama lifted the ban on investing in the country.

Hormats added that he expects the congressional opposition to the recent lifting of sanctions on U.S. investment in Burma, particularly including in the energy sector, will not result in a repeal.

"I would find it very surprising if Aung San Suu Kyi and the other reformers thought this was a good idea and Congress got much support for repealing [the lifting of sanctions]," said Hormats.

Senate leaders such as John McCain (R-AZ) are concerned that the state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which controls all of Burma's oil and gas assets, is notoriously opaque and is known to funnel money to a select few people. In order to increase transparency and reduce corruption, Hormats noted that Burma has agreed to join the Extraction Industries Transparency Initiative, which monitors industry practices and revenue flow. Suu Kyi has frequently cautioned the United States against cooperating with MOGE.

If the Burmese government wants more sanctions lifted, it will have to resolve issues related to the treatment of cultural minorities and release more political prisoners, said Hormats.

"They've released 500," Hormats said. "But there are more."

The undersecretary, who returned from a trip to Burma just over a week ago, emphasized that he saw much cause for optimism about the country's democratic transition.

"The members of the junta who previously ran Burma in a very authoritarian way are now for the most part the vanguard of the reform effort," he explained. "This time, the old guard is the new guard."

Still, there are no guarantees. Escalating tensions and recent violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Burma's Rakhine state has displaced about 80,000 people and killed 78.

"As the president and secretary have said, this is still fragile -- there's no guarantee it's going to continue, but ... we got quite a good feeling that they are committed to doing this," Hormats said about Burma's transition process.

TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/GettyImages