Sen. McCain Diagnosed with Brain Tumor

Sen. McCain Diagnosed with Brain Tumor

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), he has a profound influence on national security space programs.  He had already delayed his return to Washington to recover from a medical procedure over the weekend to remove a blood clot. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is substituting for him at SASC hearings this week.

As chairman of SASC, McCain is in charge of drafting the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that sets policy and recommends funding for the Department of Defense (DOD). SASC also recommends to the Senate whether to approve or disapprove presidential nominees for civilian and military DOD positions including those who oversee DOD space programs and operations such as the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Air Force, Air Force Chief of Staff, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command and Commander of Air Force Space Command. It is difficult to overstate his influence on the national security space sector.

Senator John McCain.  Photo credit:  McCain website.

McCain is a harsh critic of Russia and in recent years has become particularly well known in the space community for his opposition to the use of Russia’s RD-180 engines for the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket.  Initially he tried to limit their use for national security launches by prohibiting additional engine purchases and insisting on development of a U.S. launch vehicle using U.S. engines by 2019.  He finally relented on the timeline last year, agreeing to push it out to 2022 as requested by the Air Force.  Just last month during debate over a Russia sanctions bill, however, he broadened his efforts to limit the use of any Russian rocket engines for civil or commercial launches, too.  His amendment failed.

SASC already has completed markup of the FY2018 NDAA.  It is awaiting floor action in the Senate.  The House version passed last week.  Once the Senate passes its bill, a compromise will have to be negotiated, a process in which the chairmen of the two Armed Services committees play a crucial role.  Both bills direct DOD to reorganize how it deals with space programs, but the two approaches are dramatically different.  The issue will be one of the many difficult topics they will have to thrash out. SASC wants a new DOD Chief Information Warfare Officer with broad authority over space programs. The House wants a Space Corps within the Air Force and a U.S. Space Command as a subunit of U.S. Strategic Command.

At McCain’s request, the Mayo Clinic, which is treating him, released a statement explaining that “tissue pathology revealed that a primary brain tumor known as a glioblastoma was associated with the blood clot” that was removed.  The statement is posted on McCain’s website.  McCain himself conveyed optimism and confidence that “any future treatment will be effective” and a decision on when he will return to the Senate will be made after further consultations with his medical team.

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