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GOP roadshow: Senators pound on need to stave off defense cuts

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On one hand, the Republican senators laid out the impact of the cuts in stark and evocative terms, citing numerous officials from the Obama administration and the military who have characterized the cuts as leading to a “hollowed out” US armed services. They also attempted to drive home just how much the cuts would affect military-dominated southeastern Virginia, with Graham saying sequestration would shackle the area “for a generation.”

On the other, they attempted to lay blame for the issue at the feet of President Obama, on a tour landing in four key swing states for November’s elections.

“At the end of the day, we have to make this a political campaign, and we have to challenge the president to call John [McCain] and say, ‘John, let’s fix this one thing before the election,’ ” Graham said.

Representative Rigell emphasized that without presidential leadership, nothing would get accomplished.

“There’s only one commander in chief. I’m not the commander in chief; Senator McCain isn’t,” Rigell said in a subsequent interview. “As commander in chief, your chief of naval operations, is saying, ‘Sir, if this goes through, there will be severe and permanent [damage],’ full stop. As POTUS, [he should say], ‘Not on my watch.’ ”

McCain dismissed a question as to why the commonwealth’s two senators, Democrats Mark Warner and Jim Webb, were absent from the event, saying they were invited but that “their schedules or desires were otherwise.”

Considering their background and public statements on the matter, those senators, as well as Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida, are the least likely to need public pressure to support a deal on the sequester. In fact, they look to be key allies for McCain, Graham, and Ayotte in any sequester negotiation.

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