The Senate on Tuesday narrowly confirmed Steven Bradbury to join the Department of Transportation, with two Republicans voting with Democrats in opposition over Bradbury’s authorship of so-called torture memos during the George W. Bush administration.
The 50-47 vote came after an impassioned plea from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who joined Democrats in a push to derail Bradbury’s confirmation as the general counsel at DOT. McCain did change one mind, however, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voting no after crossing the aisle to support Bradbury on a key procedural vote Monday.
Manchin said in an interview after the vote that he "would try to be supportive of any administration" on nominees and that Bradbury had impressed him during their meeting. But when McCain called him Tuesday to personally ask for a no vote, Manchin said, he changed course "because of John’s service to our country, my respect and for John."
The Arizona Republican vowed earlier Tuesday to be "on the floor raising hell" against Bradbury, who helped draft controversial memos that provided legal grounds for the use of brutal interrogation techniques against detainees suspected of terrorism as a top Justice Department official under Bush.
"We are now endorsing violations of the Geneva Conventions," McCain said "The conventions govern the rules for war. That will be a disgraceful chapter.”
McCain also urged colleagues in a Tuesday letter, co-signed by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), to bring down Bradbury’s bid.
"When confronted with programs and policies that represented unlawful and potentially unconstitutional violations of prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, Mr. Bradbury not only failed to act decisively to blow the whistle on such abhorrent practices, but he actually played a leading role in seeking to defend the indefensible," the trio wrote to fellow senators.
"Complicity in torture should be disqualifying for any individual seeking to return to government service, particularly as a legal adviser," McCain, Duckworth and Feinstein wrote in the letter.
The other GOP vote against Bradbury’s confirmation, which human rights groups fought fiercely, was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
"I voted against Steven Bradbury’s nomination because you shouldn’t get to author memos on torturing people & then get another government job," Paul tweeted on Monday after the procedural vote on Bradbury.
Three Democrats missed Tuesday’s vote: Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). Had they been present, Vice President Mike Pence would have been needed to break the tie and confirm Bradbury.
John Bresnahan contributed to this report.