Cindy McCain eyed for senior role at State Department

FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2016 file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., accompanied by his wife Cindy McCain, pauses after speaking in Phoenix. A Trump administration official says that Cindy McCain is likely to take on a prominent State Department role.

Ross D. Franklin / AP

WASHINGTON — Cindy McCain, the wife of Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, is expected to be offered a prominent role in the Trump administration's State Department, two individuals familiar with the discussions said Thursday.

Although it wasn't clear what position she would fill, one possibility under discussion is McCain serving as an ambassador-at-large in Washington, focusing on a specific issue such as human trafficking, according to the administration official and another individual familiar with the talks. McCain, a philanthropist and global humanitarian activist, has been a vocal advocate for victims of human trafficking for several years.

Both individuals said they weren't authorized to speak on the matter ahead of a final decision and demanded anonymity.

Placing McCain in a State Department role would elevate the spouse of one of President Donald Trump's fiercest and most respected Republican critics on foreign policy, potentially diffusing tensions between Trump's administration and foreign policy conservatives. It could also strengthen ties between the State Department and Capitol Hill as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pushes sweeping cuts to the agency amid opposition from many lawmakers in Congress.

Sen. McCain, who traded sharp words with Trump during last year's campaign, criticized the president early on for a "dysfunctional" national security operation. He said Trump's lack of emphasis ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad from power marked "another disgraceful chapter in American history."

But in recent weeks, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee has softened his critique as Trump began adopting policies that hew closer to traditional GOP positions on Syria, Russia, Iran and geopolitical rivals. There also have been indications that the White House is considering some of McCain's former Senate aides for top administration positions related to national security.

The Arizona senator praised Trump's decision to launch cruise missiles against Assad's forces after an alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack — action McCain repeatedly criticized former President Barack Obama for failing to take.

But Sen. McCain is still speaking out against some aspects of Trump's foreign policy. He said this week it was "very disturbing" that Trump praised North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a "smart cookie," and he questioned Trump's decision to invite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House. Duterte is accused of tolerating and even supporting widespread killings as part of a war on drugs.

The official and the other individual familiar with the discussions said Trump and both McCains discussed potential opportunities last month when the president hosted the couple for dinner at the White House along with Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another leading Republican hawk.

McCain's Senate office and a spokeswoman for Cindy McCain did not respond to requests for comment.

Cindy McCain, who gained public prominence during her husband's White House run, chairs the board of Hensley Beverage Company, a major beer distributor founded by her father. She serves as co-chair of the Arizona Human Trafficking Council, part of the governor's office, and has worked on human trafficking issues through her family's McCain Institute. She also has served on boards of several nonprofit groups promoting the wellbeing of children around the world.