Ranking member Roger Wicker of Mississippi followed, faulting Dalton for taking months to respond to a letter from committee Republicans on the sale of border material after Biden canceled the Trump administration’s wall.
“I just find your performance in your previous role so unsatisfactory that I have real doubts that it’s going to get better in an enhanced role,” Wicker said.
The rocky outing signals trouble ahead for the Biden administration and Senate Democrats as they begin to fill civilian Pentagon jobs in the new year, a process that was blocked for several months last year as Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) protested the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy.
Wicker argued Dalton failed to provide accurate and timely information to Congress, noting her response said a decision would be made on the leftover materials when it was already transferred to a third party for sale.
Dalton said her response was based on “the best available information that we had at the time” from several DOD agencies. Still, Wicker said the border fight and her role in advising Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin over the incursion of the Chinese spy balloon one year ago “gives me pause” on her nomination.
Dalton was first nominated for the Air Force job in September, but the White House was forced to renominate her this month when the Senate didn’t act before the end of the year. She was previously confirmed by the Senate in 2022 for her current job as assistant secretary for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs.
In addition to the border crisis, Senate Republicans have accused Dalton of sidestepping their questions about the Pentagon’s actions on the spy balloon before it was shot down in February.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) pressed Dalton on whether she recommended to Austin that the spy balloon not be shot down over U.S. territory. She said senior military leaders made that recommendation. In order to avoid civilian harm, the balloon was shot down once it crossed over the ocean.
“Between now and the time that a vote is held on your nomination, I think you’ve got some work to do to regain the confidence of a lot of the members on this committee,” Rounds warned, noting their disagreements over the border and the balloon episode.
But the border crisis loomed large in the session, as it does in broader U.S. politics. Border security and immigration will likely play a large role in the upcoming election as Donald Trump and other Republicans rip Biden’s handling of the border.
Senate Democrats and Republicans, meanwhile, are inching closer to an agreement that could tighten border policy and unlock a deal for more than $100 billion in aid for Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel. The House could still reject that deal, however, and is careening toward impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the flow of migrants across the southern border.
Some Republicans referenced the larger border issue, despite the fact that the Pentagon merely supports DHS in its role and the disposition of border barriers does not fall under Dalton’s portfolio.
“Did you ever tell Secretary Mayorkas he was doing a crappy job?” asked Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). Dalton said she did not. She defended her job performance, noting that she’s visited the border several times and that the Pentagon has authorized continued assistance to DHS, including a National Guard presence.
“I provide options to the secretary of Defense on pathways that are legal, that are appropriate … and do not negatively impact training and readiness,” Dalton said.
“I have attended many meetings internal to the department, in the interagency, focused on what is happening at the southwest border. I have routinely visited there,” Dalton said. “I have taken this incredibly seriously in my role. There are limits to what I can do per statute from the Department of Defense on border security.”