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Mick Mulvaney faces losing support of Sen. John McCain ahead of budget confirmation

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Social media to help sidelined Graham stay in GOP debate

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (left), accompanied by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in Washington. File/Evan Vucci/AP

WASHINGTON — The Senate will begin debate Wednesday on confirming South Carolina U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney as White House budget chief, with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain leaning with the opposition.

Indications point to another late-night legislative session due to the near-unanimous Democratic resistance to the Upstate Republican being put in charge of the Office of Management and Budget.

Meanwhile, McCain told reporters he would "most likely" vote against Mulvaney after expressing deep reservations about his nomination during confirmation hearings.

"He's anti-defense," McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.

As a member of the House, Mulvaney regularly opposed funding bills that boosted military spending beyond levels mandated by sequestration, or set cuts.

"He voted to remove all of our troops from Afghanistan," McCain said. "That's just bizarre."

Democrats, meanwhile, by and large oppose Mulvaney for statements he has made in favor of slashing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He also supported the two-week government shutdown of 2013 during a stalemate with Democrats over repealing the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who until January was the top Democrat on the budget committee in the House, said there were legitimate concerns about whether Mulvaney would run the OMB according to his values or those of President Donald Trump, who campaigned on promises to boost spending on the military and infrastructure and protect entitlement programs.

"(Mulvaney is) a straight shooter, he's always been consistent, always been a person of his word," Van Hollen said of his former House colleague. "That said, Trump made it clear during the campaign he did not want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and Congressman Mulvaney has been focused on cutting a lot of those things."

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Democrats are also bothered by Mulvaney's admission he did not pay thousands of dollars in taxes on the nanny who cared for his triplets between 2000 and 2004.

Assuming all Democrats vote against Mulvaney, they need two Republicans in addition to McCain to join them in order to sink the nomination. So far, no other Republicans have stepped forward, though U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate, indicated Tuesday she is on the fence. 

If McCain and Collins both join with all Democrats in opposing Mulvaney, Vice President Mike Pence will be called in to break the potential tie. He already stepped in last week during the tied vote on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

McCain said he was not lobbying colleagues to vote his way.

Though McCain is worried about Mulvaney's stance on military spending, that fear isn't shared by close friend and fellow defense hawk U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is supporting Mulvaney.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and who was first elected to the House with Mulvaney in 2010, is also a strong supporter.

The Senate is poised to take a procedural vote Wednesday to begin up to 30 hours of debate on Mulvaney's nomination. Assuming Democrats insist on using all the allotted time, debate would go late into Wednesday night and into the early hours of Thursday morning, with a final vote on confirmation sometime later in the day.

Democrats on Tuesday indicated they intended to use most, if not all, of the debate time.

Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier's Washington correspondent. Reach her at 843-834-0419 and follow her @emma_dumain.

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