Three Trump picks get con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

WASH­ING­TON — Re­tired Gen. James Mat­tis cruised Thurs­day to­ward approval to serve as Don­ald Trump’s de­fense sec­re­tary, eas­ily pre­vail­ing in a Se­nate vote that granted him an ex­emp­tion that will al­low him to run the Pen­tagon as a re­cently re­tired of­fi­cer.

Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings were held Thurs­day for Mat­tis as well as for Trump’s picks for CIA di­rec­tor and hous­ing sec­re­tary.

Mat­tis, at his hear­ing, de­clared Rus­sia the na­tion’s No. 1 se­cu­rity threat and ac­cused Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of try­ing to “break” NATO.

The Se­nate voted 81-17 to over­ride a pro­hi­bi­tion on for­mer U.S. ser­vice mem­bers who have been re­tired for less than seven years from hold­ing the De­fense De­part­ment’s top job. Mat­tis re­tired in 2013.

The re­stric­tion is in­tended to pre­serve civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary. The House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee sup­ported the waiver in a 34-28 vote. The full House is to

take up the mat­ter to­day.

Mat­tis, 66, spent four decades in uni­form be­fore re­tir­ing. He has a rep­u­ta­tion as an ef­fec­tive com­bat leader and an as­tute strate­gist. Sep­a­rate from Thurs­day’s over­ride leg­is­la­tion, the Se­nate will vote later on Mat­tis’ nom­i­na­tion for the post.

The only pre­vi­ous ex­cep­tion to the seven-year rule was made for Ge­orge Mar­shall in 1950, the year Mat­tis was born. Even some of Trump’s strong­est crit­ics have sup­ported the waiver for Mat­tis, ar­gu­ing that Mat­tis’ ex­pe­ri­ence and tem­per­a­ment can serve as a steady­ing in­flu­ence on a new pres­i­dent with no ex­pe­ri­ence in na­tional se­cu­rity.

It was un­clear whether Pres­i­dent Barack Obama would sign the leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing Mat­tis to take up the post, or whether it would fall to Trump af­ter his in­au­gu­ra­tion.

At an un­con­tentious con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, Mat­tis sketched an in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity scene dom­i­nated by dark images of an ag­gres­sive Rus­sia, resur­gent China and vi­o­lent Mideast. He de­scribed Iran as a ma­jor desta­bi­liz­ing force, called North Korea a po­ten­tial nu­clear threat, and said the U.S. mil­i­tary needs to grow larger and read­ier for com­bat.

“We see each day a world awash in change,” Mat­tis said. “Our coun­try is still at war in Afghanistan and our troops are fight­ing against [Is­lamic State mil­i­tants] and other ter­ror­ist groups in the Mid­dle East and else­where. Rus­sia is rais­ing grave con­cerns on sev­eral fronts, and China is shred­ding trust along its pe­riph­ery.”

Mat­tis said the his­tory of U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tions is not en­cour­ag­ing.

“I have very mod­est ex­pec­ta­tions for ar­eas of co­op­er­a­tion with Mr. Putin,” he said, de­liv­er­ing an as­sess­ment that’s dis­so­nant with that of Trump. Trump has re­peat­edly praised Putin, even as U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have ac­cused the Rus­sian leader of or­ches­trat­ing a cam­paign of in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 U.S. elec­tion.

Mat­tis, a for­mer NATO mil­i­tary leader, said of Putin, “He is try­ing to break the North At­lantic al­liance.”

Mat­tis said he has ex­plained to Trump his views on Rus­sia, which in­clude a deep worry that Moscow is de­ter­mined to use in­tim­i­da­tion and nu­clear threats to cre­ate a sphere of un­sta­ble states on its pe­riph­ery.

Mat­tis, who has served in nu­mer­ous se­nior mil­i­tary po­si­tions, in­clud­ing com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand in charge of all Amer­i­can forces in the Mid­dle East, said he sup­ports the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s moves to re­as­sure Euro­pean al­lies af­ter Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Ukraine’s Crimea re­gion and mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity in eastern Ukraine.

While the U.S. should re­main open to work­ing with Rus­sia, Mat­tis said, the prospects for co­op­er­a­tion are nar­row­ing as ar­eas of dis­agree­ment grow.

Mat­tis faced no hos­tile ques­tions from Repub­li­cans or Democrats, re­ceiv­ing bi­par­ti­san praise for his rep­u­ta­tion as a straight-talk­ing, well-read man of in­tegrity and in­tel­li­gence.

Wil­liam Co­hen, a de­fense sec­re­tary for Demo­cratic Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, in­tro­duced Mat­tis as a “hum­ble man with very lit­tle to be hum­ble about.”

“He’s a man of thought as well as ac­tion,” Co­hen said.

Mat­tis re­peat­edly spoke up for tra­di­tional al­liances, in­clud­ing those with NATO, South Korea and Ja­pan, that Trump has ques­tioned. The pres­i­dent-elect has ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about U.S. se­cu­rity com­mit­ments un­less those part­ners in­crease fi­nan­cial out­lays for their own de­fense.

“We must also em­brace our in­ter­na­tional al­liances and se­cu­rity part­ner­ships. His­tory is clear: Na­tions with strong al­lies thrive and those with­out them wither,” Mat­tis said.

He said Trump has shown him­self to be open and in­quis­i­tive while dis­cussing NATO with him. Asked how he, a re­tired four-star general, would ne­go­ti­ate his re­la­tion­ship with Trump’s pick for na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, re­tired three­star general Michael Flynn, Mat­tis said de­bate of pol­icy is­sues “isn’t al­ways tidy” but he didn’t ex­pect any prob­lems.

Asked about the pos­si­bil­ity that Trump’s Cab­i­net nom­i­nees may dif­fer with Trump on Rus­sia, in­com­ing press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer said the pres­i­dent-elect was “not ask­ing for clones” in se­lect­ing his se­nior ad­vis­ers. Still, he said, “at the end of the day, each one of them is go­ing to pur­sue a Trump agenda and a Trump vi­sion.”

CIA NOM­I­NEE HEAR­ING

In his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing Thurs­day, Trump’s choice to run the CIA — U.S. Rep. Mike Pom­peo, R-Kan. — sided with in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials who say Rus­sia was be­hind the elec­tion cy­ber­at­tacks, adopt­ing a tough stand against that coun­try. Ties be­tween the for­mer Cold War en­e­mies have also been strained by Syria’s civil war.

Pom­peo said Thurs­day that he ac­cepts the find­ings in an in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment that Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the U.S. elec­tion with the goal of help­ing Trump win, even though the pres­i­dent-elect has been skep­ti­cal about some of the re­port’s con­clu­sions.

“Ev­ery­thing I’ve seen sug­gests to me that the re­port has an an­a­lyt­i­cal prod­uct that is sound,” Pom­peo said. His com­ments struck a dif­fer­ent tone from those of Trump, who called the fo­cus on Rus­sia and on the elec­tion a “po­lit­i­cal witch hunt” be­fore he was even briefed on the find­ings.

Trump, for the first time Wed­nes­day, ac­knowl­edged that Rus­sia was be­hind the com­puter hack­ing that tar­geted Democrats dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign.

As head of the CIA, Pom­peo would be re­spon­si­ble for shar­ing with Trump in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments that the pres­i­dent may find po­lit­i­cally un­ap­peal­ing, in­clud­ing ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion on Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence with the Amer­i­can demo­cratic process. Pom­peo promised sen­a­tors on the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee that he would do so.

“My obli­ga­tion as di­rec­tor of CIA is to tell ev­ery pol­i­cy­maker the facts as best the in­tel­li­gence agency has de­vel­oped them,” Pom­peo said. He is cur­rently a mem­ber of the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee.

This week Trump also said in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials might be to blame for the leak of an ad­den­dum to the Rus­sia as­sess­ment that was a sum­mary of un­ver­i­fied claims that Rus­sia had ob­tained com­pro­mis­ing sex­ual and fi­nan­cial al­le­ga­tions about Trump.

On a sep­a­rate mat­ter, Pom­peo said he would “ab­so­lutely not” com­ply with any or­ders from the pres­i­dent to again start us­ing tor­ture tac­tics to in­ter­ro­gate sus­pected ter­ror­ists.

Dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, Pom­peo told sen­a­tors that as CIA di­rec­tor, he would com­mit to dis­agree with Trump when nec­es­sary, and that Trump would ex­pect him to do so.

Pom­peo said “you have my com­mit­ment that ev­ery day, I will not only speak truth to power, but I will de­mand that the men and women … who live their life do­ing that will be will­ing, able, and fol­low my in­struc­tions to do that each and ev­ery day.”

HUD NOM­I­NEE HEAR­ING

Ben Car­son, Trump’s pick to head the De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment, re­flected on his years grow­ing up Detroit’s in­ner city, as he spoke Thurs­day dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing.

He is the nom­i­nee to head a sprawl­ing agency that has 8,300 em­ploy­ees and a bud­get of about $48 bil­lion.

Car­son says he un­der­stands the needs of the coun­try’s most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple.

At his hear­ing be­fore the Se­nate Bank­ing, House and Ur­ban Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, the neu­ro­sur­geon talked about grow­ing up in Detroit with his sin­gle mother who had a third­grade ed­u­ca­tion and worked nu­mer­ous jobs to keep a roof over their heads and food on the ta­ble.

“I have, ac­tu­ally, in my life un­der­stood what hous­ing in­se­cu­rity was,” he told law­mak­ers.

Democrats in the GOP-run Se­nate ques­tioned his ex­pe­ri­ence. Car­son said one of the things he’s learned in pri­vate life as part of serv­ing on var­i­ous boards is how to find a good chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. He said a good CEO doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily know ev­ery­thing about run­ning a par­tic­u­lar busi­ness, but he knows how to se­lect peo­ple and use their tal­ents.

Car­son said HUD’s rental as­sis­tance pro­grams are “es­sen­tial” to mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. The de­part­ment, he said, has a lot of good pro­grams, but “the progress per­haps has not been as great as one would like to see.”

He dis­played a softer ap­proach to­ward the role of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment than he some­times did on the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign trail. When re­minded that he had called for across-the-board agency spend­ing cuts of 10 per­cent dur­ing the cam­paign, Car­son noted that he later mod­i­fied that amount to 1 per­cent.

Car­son talked about a more “holis­tic ap­proach” to help­ing peo­ple and de­vel­op­ing “the whole per­son.” For ex­am­ple, he said, HUD could work with other agen­cies such as the Ed­u­ca­tion and La­bor de­part­ments on bet­ter ac­cess to a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and ap­pren­tice­ship pro­grams to train work­ers.

Sev­eral for­mer HUD sec­re­taries, Democrats and Repub­li­cans, wrote the com­mit­tee in sup­port of Car­son. The let­ter was signed by Henry Cis­neros, sec­re­tary un­der Clin­ton, and Mel Martinez, Alphonso Jack­son and Steven Pre­ston, who worked for Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

Car­son, the only black ma­jor-party can­di­date in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race, grew up poor. He at­tended Yale Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Med­i­cal School, and was the first black per­son named as head of pe­di­atric neu­ro­surgery at Johns Hop­kins Chil­dren’s Cen­ter in Bal­ti­more.

Be­fore Thurs­day’s hear­ing, Car­son had said lit­tle pub­licly about fed­eral hous­ing matters. In a 2015 opin­ion piece, he crit­i­cized an Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion fair hous­ing rule as gov­ern­ment over­reach. At his hear­ing Thurs­day, he told law­mak­ers that he would work with lo­cal HUD of­fi­cials to “make sure that fair­ness is car­ried out.”

AP/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

De­fense sec­re­tary nom­i­nee re­tired Gen. James Mat­tis (left) and CIA di­rec­tor nom­i­nee Rep. Mike Pom­peo (right) both took hard­line stands against Rus­sia in their con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings Thurs­day.

AP/MANUEL BALCE CENETA

The New York Times/AL DRAGO

“I have, ac­tu­ally, in my life un­der­stood what hous­ing in­se­cu­rity was,” Ben Car­son, the nom­i­nee to lead the De­part­ment Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment, said Thurs­day at his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, cit­ing his early years liv­ing in in­ner-city Detroit with his sin­gle mother.

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