GOP group's ad attacks Slotkin on national security issues

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Brighton, and Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly

Washington — A new ad from a national Republican group is using footage from Democrat Elissa Slotkin's confirmation hearing to attack her record as part of the Obama administration.

The 30-second spot is running on broadcast and cable television and radio in the Detroit market this week and next as part of a $646,000 total media buy by the National Republican Congressional Committee, spokeswoman Maddie Anderson said. 

The ad features an abbreviated clip of Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, criticizing Slotkin at her confirmation hearing. 

The spot might run for a third week as part of another $575,000 buy or it could be a different ad, Anderson said. 

Politico reported Wednesday that McCain's family was disappointed that his words were being "weaponized" in political ads weeks after his death last month. 

"The family is disappointed that John's image is being weaponized this election cycle so soon after his passing, and they had hoped there would be a more appropriate amount of time for people to think about his final message before they began to politicize him," family friend and former aid Rick Davis told Politico. 

In one of Michigan's most competitive races, Slotkin of Holly is challenging U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, who is seeking a third term representing the 8th District, which includes Livingston County and parts of Oakland and Ingham counties including Lansing. 

The contest is rated a toss-up by political handicappers, with Slotkin having raised more money than Bishop every quarter. 

Slotkin's background is in national security, and the NRCC ad targets what it calls her "real record in D.C.," featuring footage from her 2014 confirmation hearing to be assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

"From underestimating the threat of ISIS to supporting the dangerous Iran nuclear deal, Elissa Slotkin has proven she won't keep us safe," the narrator says. 

Slotkin, who served three tours in Iraq with the Central Intelligence Agency, testified at her hearing that she helped negotiate the U.S.-Iraq agreement in 2008 that established a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. At the time, she worked for the White House National Security Council under President George W. Bush. 

The ad features a clip of McCain at the hearing accusing Slotkin of not being honest about President Barack Obama's decision not to leave behind a "stabilizing force" in Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal in 2011. 

McCain asked if she supported leaving residual forces and disagreed with her when she said the Obama administration had tried to negotiate with the Iraqi government and "they did not invite us in."

McCain said he'd heard differently from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and from her superiors at the Pentagon. 

"In all due respect to you, Ms. Slotkin, you either don't know the truth, or you are not telling the truth to this committee, because we could have left a stabilizing force behind," McCain said at the hearing. 

McCain, then the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, also complained that Slotkin "can't articulate a strategy to defeat ISIS" and said she was not qualified. He put a hold on the nomination, and Slotkin was not confirmed for the post. 

Slotkin last week praised McCain, who died in August, as an American hero and an advocate for U.S. service members. 

"During my confirmation hearing, Sen. McCain was doing his job. He was asking tough questions about the administration’s policies and our military’s posture in Iraq," Slotkin said in an interview.

"And I was doing my job. I was representing the decisions of the commander in chief and keeping my best professional advice to the president in confidence."

Slotkin added: "To be frank, my personal opinions differed from the president’s at the time, but I took my obligations to my role very seriously."

Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, a Detroit Democrat who chaired Slotkin's hearing as head of the Armed Services Committee, did support her confirmation. 

At the hearing, Levin said the questions McCain raised came down to whether the Obama administration made an "adequate effort" to try to persuade Maliki it was in everyone's interest to leave U.S. forces behind. 

He quoted from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' book, which said Maliki would not present an agreement to the Iraqi parliament because he feared the political consequences. "'Most Iraqis wanted us gone,'" Levin said, quoting Gates.  

Levin, who retired from the Senate in 2015, has endorsed Slotkin. He said Wednesday he always found her to be "thoughtful and truthful" in her many briefings to his committee. 

"I also deeply love John McCain, by the way. This was one case when we didn’t agree," Levin said in an interview. 

"I give her credit for honoring the position she held and not giving an opinion that undermined the policy of the president. I think she deserves credit for courage. She was obviously jeopardizing her own chances of getting confirmed by taking that position."

The NRCC ad dropped after Slotkin received the endorsements of several Republican national security leaders, including former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Stephen Hadley, national security adviser under Bush.

Hadley said he had worked frequently with McCain, who "strongly disagreed" with the Obama administration's policy on Iraq and Syria, and knew that some Obama nominees testifying before his committee also did not share Obama's views. 

"Sen. McCain wanted nominees to make that clear to the committee during the confirmation hearings," Hadley said in a statement.

"But Elissa, and various other nominees rightly, in my view, felt that they could not be the nominee of the Obama administration for a senior government position and publicly criticize the policies of the administration they were being asked to join."