- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Freshman Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina missed a hearing last week with senior Pentagon leaders on the threat of Islamic State militants and instead privately got insights on the group from former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Tillis was absent from the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, where Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded to tough questioning about efforts to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Tillis’ office confirmed Wednesday the first-term senator was meeting with Cheney at the time of the July 7 hearing.

In the last year, Democrats and Republican Sen. Rand Paul have challenged Cheney over his criticism of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, pointing to the problems that have lingered after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Cheney was a strong backer of the invasion.

Tillis, the former North Carolina House speaker, unseated Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan last November in a campaign in which he criticized Hagan for what he called a poor attendance records at Armed Services Committee meetings related to the Islamic State. On one occasion, Hagan didn’t attend because she had a campaign fundraiser later in the day in New York.

Tillis spokesman Dan Keylin said by email that Tillis has a strong attendance record.

Cheney and Tillis had a two-hour “one-on-one discussion on America’s strategy to defeat ISIS and ways to pursue our national security interests at home and abroad,” Keylin said.

The Cheney meeting was scheduled well before the hearing announcement for the committee on which Tillis serves, Keylin said, and Tillis already has spoken to Carter privately several times and at previous hearings, as well as national security leaders from both parties. He’s also met with senior military leaders at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg and during a trip last spring to Afghanistan and other Middle East companies with other Republican senators.

“Cheney is one of the nation’s foremost experts on national security matters and brings a unique perspective on the fight against ISIS and Islamic terrorists that Senator Tillis wanted to hear,” Keylin said.

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