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Cornyn places hold on Obama confidant Lippert over Taiwan F-16 sales

Cornyn places hold on Obama confidant Lippert over Taiwan F-16 sales

Now that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has lifted his hold on Obama confidant Mark Lippert to become the next top Pentagon official for Asia, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has stepped in with a hold of his own, over the issue of selling F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan.

"Earlier today Senator Cornyn placed a hold on the nomination of Mark W. Lippert, a former aide to President Obama, to be assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs," said Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewie. "In November Senator Cornyn sent a letter to the president requesting a plan to address Taiwan’s aging fleet of fighter jets. The administration finally responded yesterday, but failed to adequately address Senator Cornyn’s underlying concern."

The Lippert hold, first reported by the Washington Free Beacon, is not the first time Cornyn has used his power to hold nominees to press his advocacy for selling F-16s to Taiwan. Last July, Cornyn held up the nomination of Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed to make a decision on selling the fighter plane to Taiwan.

In October, the administration decided to sell Taiwan upgrade packages for its aging fleet of F-15 A/B model planes but the administration never said whether it would sell Taiwan the newer, more advanced planes, claiming it is still under consideration.

At Lippert’s November confirmation hearing, Cornyn pressed Lippert on the issue (watch the video here) and then introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill that seeks to force the administration to sell Taiwan new F-16s. That amendment had been voted down in the Senate once before.

Cornyn then wrote a letter threatening to hold the Lippert nomination unless he gets some satisfaction on the issue.

"I remain disappointed by your de facto denial of Taiwan’s request to 66 new F-16 C/D fighter aircraft, and I believe it sends a damaging message to nations in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond that the U.S. is willing to abandon our friends in the face of Communist China’s intimidation tactics," Cornyn wrote. "I hope to be able to support the confirmation of this nominee [Lippert]. However, I ask that you decide on a near term course of action to address Taiwan’s looming fighter shortfall and provide me with the specific actions you plan to take."

In the administration’s Feb. 16 response to Cornyn, acting Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Jim Miller wrote, "We believe the F-16 A/B upgrade effectively meets Taiwan’s current needs."

Miller would be Lippert’s boss at OSD if Lippert does eventually get confirmed. Miller also faces a confirmation vote in the Senate as he seeks to permanently replace the now-departed Michèle Flournoy.