Pro-Defense Sen. Ayotte Named ‘Counsel’ to Sen. McConnell

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., addresses the media in late November. On Thursday, the rising Senate star and pro-defense lawmaker was named a "counsel" to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

She quickly became the fourth member of the so-called “Three Amigos” in the U.S. Senate, joining GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Independent former Sen. Joseph Leiberman. When the latter announced his retirement, she became the third “Amigo.”

And now, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., has achieved rising star status within the Senate GOP caucus. The pro-military senator’s rise could be very good news for the defense sector, which has more reasons than ever to be worried about the much-feared possibility of deep cuts to planned via sequestration.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Thursday named Ayotte an unofficial member of his leadership team. She will be one of his “counsels” — in Senate jargon that simply means adviser. McConnell’s other adviser is Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who has been a very public face for the upper chamber’s GOP ranks during the fiscal cliff battle and in the early days of the coming debt-ceiling fight.

Ayotte and her fellow “Amigos” were ranked in the 21st position in the first-ever Defense News “Top 100 Most Influential People List” last month.

Why is the Senate Armed Services Committee member’s appointment as an advice-giver to McConnell important to the Pentagon and the defense sector?

Consider something one Washington insider and pro-defense thinking told your correspondent this week in the wake of what nearly was a fiscal cliff bill that allowed twin $500 defense and domestic sequester cuts to kick in: “Mitch McConnell doesn’t give a sh*t about defense.”

Ayotte as adviser and the insertion of longtime SASC member John Cornyn, R-Tex., into the post of McConnell’s chief Senate deputy means the minority leader now is surrounded by two lawmakers who care very much about defense. That is worth watching as it is likely the task of negotiating a sequester-replacement package with congressional Democrats and the Obama administration will fall on McConnell’s shoulders, just like an August 2011 budget deal and the recent fiscal cliff tax measure.

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett