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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 ...

Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Carsten Koall/Getty Images

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?

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."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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