SAC BEE: Fact check: Did Tom McClintock call the all-volunteer military a ‘dismal failure?’

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By David Lightman

This article was originally posted in the Sacramento Bee

Rep. Tom McClintock called the all-volunteer military a “dismal failure,” and likened the military draft to slavery, Democratic challenger Brynne Kennedy charges in a new ad.

She’s right. But McClintock said those things in 1979 in a newspaper piece he wrote where he attacked proposals at the time to revive military draft and require compulsory national service. The ad does not mention the date the column appeared.

The ad lists a long series of votes and says those votes illustrate how the 4th District Republican has been hostile to the interests of veterans. McClintock’s campaign points to other votes that show strong support.

And the ad maintains that McClintock was silent when allegations surfaced that Russians were paying bounties in Afghanistan for killing American military personnel. The McClintock response is the information was never corroborated or proven.

Kennedy has mounted a strong challenge to McClintock, a seven-term congressman who is used to winning easily in the sprawling district. She’s the daughter, niece, granddaughter and great granddaughter of Army veterans who served in World War I, World War II, Vietnam and during the Cold War.

Kennedy is listing what she sees as McClintock’s failings on the McClintockFacts.com website, and this week launched an ad attacking the congressman for his record on veterans issues.

‘THE NEW SLAVERY’

The ad: “Too many politicians show their cowardice at home. Tom McClintock once called our all-volunteer military a dismal failure.”

The spot highlights a March 1979 piece written by McClintock for the Thousand Oaks News-Chronicle titled “The New Slavery” and has a screen shot of the article.

At the time, there were rumblings that the military draft, which ended in 1973 as the Vietnam War wound down, could be revived. McClintock, who was born in 1956 and therefore too young for the Vietnam-era draft, wrote that “politicians are turning their attention to the tried and true institution of slavery masqueraded as patriotic obligation.”

The draft, McClintock wrote, is a “totalitarian mechanism” and a “radical form of compulsion.”

He continued that “the all-volunteer military has been a dismal failure in assuring an adequate force on short notice in the event of a major war.”

Chris Baker, a McClintock spokesman, urged looking at the context and time of the article.

McClintock was commenting on the state of the military during President Jimmy Carter’s administration, a time when the nation’s armed services were still reeling from the loss in Vietnam the year before Carter’s election.

There was little sentiment to revive the draft itself, but after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, though, Carter, trying to demonstrate he could get tough with the Russians, established draft registration in 1980.

“For Brynne to misrepresent this column written in 1979 as a contemporary attack on the military is simply dishonest,” Baker said.

Kennedy spokesman Todd Stenhouse countered, “There is never an excuse for using such derogatory language to describe our military. These are McClintock’s own words and his 40 year voting record.”

Bottom Line: Kennedy’s ad accurately quotes McClintock, but only says he “once” made these claims. But his camp says it does not reflect his view of the military today.

CONGRESSIONAL VOTES

The ad: “He’s voted against supporting veterans and military families.”

Voting records are often difficult ways to reach conclusions about a member of Congress’ specific positions, because they have to vote on huge spending and policy bills that contain hundreds of pages of measures that include items important to individual members that are not always popular with others.

In the ad, references to McClintock votes that Kennedy says are anti-veteran roll across the screen.

The vote records are accurate, and he did vote no on several measures that would have provided less money for the Department of Veterans Affairs than Democrats had proposed. In almost every case, virtually every Republican voted as McClintock did, believing Democrats were often overspending or promoting misguided politices.

McClintock often did vote for Department of Veterans Affairs budgets.

In 2016, though, McClintock was one of five Republicans to oppose the year’s defense policy bill, which included a military pay raise.

He had several objections. He disliked a provision that barred a review of obsolete or dysfunctional military bases and increased manpower levels instead of rebuilding arsenals. He didn’t like how a proposal was squelched that would have forbidden employment of illegal aliens in the armed forces.

He also opposed bipartisan legislation to provide more compensation to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A key version, he said, was taken up at the end of the congressional session in 2010 without any time for him to review or analyze the measure.

A compromise measure was announced three days before the vote; 58 other House Republicans opposed the bill. and McClintock had opposed two earlier versions of the legislation the same year.

He explained his vote on final passage, saying “Contrary to claims that it only compensates first responders, in reality it provides an open entitlement program for anyone simply in the vicinity of the attack.”

Bottom line: Kennedy correctly lists McClintock’s votes, but does not include other votes where he supported veterans and the military.

BOUNTIES

The ad: “Now as Russian agents offer bounties to kill American soldiers he won’t hold them accountable.”

Said Baker, “Tom never commented on it because there was never independent verification of the information, the NSA strongly questioned the accuracy of the report, the Pentagon said there was no corroborating evidence to the claim, and there was never evidence it was acted upon even if it had been corroborated.”

The CIA and others have reportedly found that Russia did offer such bounties, but its information was not conclusive. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has raised the bounties with Russian government officials, he told Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty in August.

“If the Russians are offering money to kill Americans or, for that matter, other Westerners as well, there will be an enormous price to pay,” Pompeo said, according to The New York Times.

Kennedy called for congressional investigations into the matter. “American veterans and military families deserve to know that their Representatives and their neighbors have their backs. While we don’t yet have all the facts, we need to demand them,” she wrote in a guest column in the Amador Ledger-Dispatch.

Bottom line: McClintock did not comment on the bounty reports.