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John McCain may lift his hold on Pentagon nominees after Niger briefing

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There are 22 pending Trump nominees in the Senate, and 19 of those are awaiting Armed Services hearings. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Thursday he is considering lifting his hold on some of President Trump’s Defense Department nominees following a briefing on Niger.

Just hours later after his statement, Senate Republicans announced that John Gibson, the nominee for deputy chief management officer, was teed up for an expected vote next week.

McCain said the classified briefing to the Armed Services Committee by officials with the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs of Staff on a deadly ambush this month was progress in his effort to make the Trump administration more forthcoming about military operations around the world.

There are 22 pending Trump nominees in the Senate, and 19 of those are awaiting Armed Services hearings. McCain has refused to hold hearings in recent weeks as he has sought information about military strategy and operations in Niger, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

“We are certainly talking about that and we’re making progress and I will lift some of those [holds],” McCain said as he emerged from the Niger briefing.

Gibson had a Senate Armed Services hearing and was reported to the full Senate on July 27.

He would not say whether he will move the nomination of Mark Esper, a top lobbyist for defense giant Raytheon who is Trump’s pick to be Army secretary. The nomination is the highest position among the 39 out of 57 Senate-confirmed Pentagon seats that have yet to be filled by the Trump administration.

“We are discussing it right now, we just got the briefing,” McCain said when asked about Esper.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made a special trip to Capitol Hill last week to meet with McCain and pledge better cooperation on sharing information after the Armed Services chairman had said he was considering subpoenas for administration officials.

The Niger ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers on Oct. 4 recently became a focus of McCain’s frustration with the Pentagon. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also pledged to “double our communication efforts” with Congress during a briefing on the incident Monday.