Nom­i­nees pull away from Trump on ma­jor is­sues

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NATION - By Jen­nifer Stein­hauer

WASH­ING­TON >> Amer­ica should not tor­ture. Rus­sia is a men­ace. A wall at the Mex­i­can bor­der would not be ef­fec­tive. A blan­ket ban against Mus­lims is wrong. Cli­mate change is a threat. Those state­ments are in di­rect op­po­si­tion to some of the most sig­nif­i­cant dec­la­ra­tions Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump made be­fore his im­prob­a­ble as­cen­sion to the White House. They are also the words of his own nom­i­nees to lead the na­tion’s most im­por­tant gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

In their first week of grilling be­fore con­gres­sional pan­els, Trump’s Cab­i­net nom­i­nees broke with him on al­most ev­ery ma­jor pol­icy that has put Trump out­side Repub­li­can ortho­doxy, par­tic­u­larly in the area of na­tional se­cu­rity.

James N. Mat­tis, a re­tired Ma­rine Corps general who long ago ex­pressed his op­po­si­tion to tor­ture, said Thurs­day that if he were con­firmed as de­fense sec­re­tary, he would sup­port the Iran nu­clear agree­ment, which Trump has de­rided. “When Amer­ica gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our al­lies,” Mat­tis said at his hear­ing, a stark con­trast from Trump’s view that the Iran ne­go­ti­a­tions pro­duced “one of the dumb­est deals ever.”

Rex W. Tiller­son, whom Trump has cho­sen to be sec­re­tary of state, parted ways with the pres­i­dent-elect on a range of is­sues this week, call­ing Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of Rus­sia a re­gional and in­ter­na­tional threat who should be coun­tered with “a pro­por­tional show of force.” Tiller­son re­jected a ban on Mus­lim im­mi­grants, called the United States’ com­mit­ment to NATO “in­vi­o­lable” — again con­tra­dict­ing Trump — and said he did not agree with Trump’s pre­vi­ous com­ments that Ja­pan should per­haps ob­tain nu­clear weapons.

And Trump’s pick to head the CIA, Rep. Mike Pom­peo, R-Kan., vig­or­ously de­fended the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, which Trump has de­rided. Tran­si­tion of­fi­cials said they were un­con­cerned by the differences. Sean Spicer, who will be the White House press sec­re­tary, said that Trump had cho­sen peo­ple for their ex­per­tise, not their abil­ity to par­rot his own po­si­tions.

STILL, ALL SIGNS in­di­cate that the last word on pol­icy will be Trump’s.

“At the end of the day, each one of them is go­ing to pur­sue a Trump agenda and a Trump vi­sion,” Spicer told re­porters Thurs­day.

But Sen. Su­san Collins, R-Maine, said the broad gulf be­tween Trump and the nom­i­nees was un­usual.

“It sug­gests to me that Don­ald Trump wants ad­vis­ers who will bring him dif­fer­ent views,” said Collins, a mem­ber of the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence panel that grilled Pom­peo on Thurs­day. “That would be very healthy. Or it could lead to con­fused mes­sages both to our al­lies and our ad­ver­saries.” Democrats took a harsher view.

“A num­ber of the nom­i­nees have tried to sprint away from the pres­i­dent-elect’s out-of-the-main­stream po­si­tions to try to show the pub­lic they’re rea­son­able,” said Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Se­nate Demo­crat. In many cases the nom­i­nees have long records in pub­lic ser­vice and are stat­ing long-held po­si­tions. The Trump team also rec­og­nizes that the pres­i­dent-elect’s most un­ortho­dox and bel­liger­ent stances — while help­ful in a pop­ulist cam­paign for the White House — would be un­likely to pass muster with many mem­bers of the Se­nate, even fel­low Repub­li­cans.

The nom­i­nees seem to be de­ter­mined to cre­ate the im­pres­sion that they could pre­vail in cru­cial pol­icy dis­cus­sions.

“I find it a strength that the pres­i­dent-elect has nom­i­nated peo­ple that have dif­fer­ent views from the ones he has pre­vi­ously ex­pressed,” said John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Repub­li­can in the Se­nate. Trump’s Cab­i­net nom­i­nees are be­ing metic­u­lously pre­pared for their meet­ings with sen­a­tors and for con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, sev­eral sen­a­tors said. In those prepa­ra­tion ses­sions, the ap­pointees are of­ten ques­tioned on is­sues they know could snag them.

Most no­tably, the nom­i­nees have taken strong po­si­tions against Rus­sia in the con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings. Trump, by con­trast, has spent a year de­fend­ing his de­sire to have strong re­la­tion­ships with Rus­sia and Putin, and only this week seemed to ac­knowl­edge what the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies agree on: that Rus­sia in­ter­fered with the elec­tion.

TILLER­SON, in par­tic­u­lar, was grilled on his views by Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., given Tiller­son’s long-stand­ing re­la­tion­ship with Putin while he was the head of Exxon Mo­bil and his ad­vo­cacy for drop­ping sanc­tions against the na­tion. On Wed­nes­day, Tiller­son said that Rus­sia had been in­volved in the elec­tion hack­ing, although he did not go as far as Ru­bio seemed to want, by declar­ing Rus­sia a rogue na­tion.

Mat­tis was un­com­pro­mis­ing on the topic. “Since Yalta we have a long list of times we’ve tried to en­gage pos­i­tively with Rus­sia,” he said. “We have a rel­a­tively short list of suc­cesses in that re­gard. And I think right now the most im­por­tant thing is that we rec­og­nize the re­al­ity of what we deal with, with Mr. Putin, and we rec­og­nize that he is try­ing to break the North At­lantic al­liance, and that we take the steps — the in­te­grated steps, diplo­matic, eco­nomic and mil­i­tary and the al­liance steps, the work­ing with our al­lies — to de­fend our­selves where we must.”

Tiller­son told law­mak­ers that he fa­vored re­main­ing a party to the global cli­mate ac­cord reached in Paris in 2015.

It is not clear whether he will get that chance. Although Trump told The New York Times last month that he had an “open mind” on the Paris Agree­ment, he promised in a speech in May that “we’re go­ing to can­cel the Paris cli­mate agree­ment and stop all pay­ment of U.S. tax dol­lars to U.N. global-warm­ing pro­grams.” Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, R-Ala., Trump’s nom­i­nee for at­tor­ney general, did not go as far on tor­ture as Pom­peo, who, when asked whether he would al­low the use of “en­hanced in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques” if or­dered to do so by Trump, replied, “Ab­so­lutely not.” But Ses­sions did say that wa­ter­board­ing was il­le­gal.

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