Pen­tagon pick likely to get waiver to serve in Cabi­net

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATIONAL & WORLD -

WASH­ING­TON — Re­tired Gen. James Mat­tis on Thurs­day cruised to­ward likely con­fir­ma­tion as Don­ald Trump’s de­fense sec­re­tary, over­whelm­ingly pre­vail­ing in a Se­nate vote grant­ing him an ex­emp­tion to run the Pen­tagon as a re­cently re­tired of­fi­cer.

At his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, he called Rus­sia the na­tion’s No. 1 se­cu­rity threat, ac­cus­ing its leader of try­ing to break NATO.

The Se­nate voted 81-17 to ap­prove leg­is­la­tion over­rid­ing a pro­hi­bi­tion against for­mer U.S. ser­vice mem­bers who have been out of uni­form less than seven years from hold­ing the De­fense Depart­ment’s top job. The re­stric­tion is meant to pre­serve civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary. The House is sched­uled to vote to­day.

Mat­tis, 66, spent four decades in uni­form, re­tir­ing in 2013 with a rep­u­ta­tion as an ef­fec­tive com­bat leader and an as­tute strate­gist. Sep­a­rate from the over­ride leg­is­la­tion, the Se­nate will vote later on Mat­tis’ nom­i­na­tion, which is seen as all but cer­tain to be con­firmed.

Even some of Trump’s strong­est crit­ics have sup­ported the waiver for Mat­tis, ar­gu­ing that his ex­pe­ri­ence and tem­per­a­ment can be a steady­ing in­flu­ence on a new pres­i­dent with no ex­pe­ri­ence in na­tional se­cu­rity.

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.

Mat­tis por­trayed Rus­sia as an ad­ver­sary and 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 strik­ingly dis­so­nant with that of his po­ten­tial com­man­der in chief. Trump has re­peat­edly praised Vladimir Putin, even as U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have ac­cused the Rus­sian leader of or­ches­trat­ing a cam­paign of in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 U.S. elec­tion.

Of Putin, said Mat­tis, a for­mer NATO leader: “He is try­ing to break the North At­lantic al­liance.” Mat­tis added that he sup­ports the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s moves to re­as­sure Euro­pean al­lies af­ter Moscow’s an­nex­a­tion of Ukraine’s Crimea re­gion and mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity in eastern Ukraine.

Trump’s pick to run the CIA told Congress on 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 of some of the re­port’s conclusions.

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

On other is­sues, Pom­peo said he will up­hold the law and not di­rect the CIA to re­vert to us­ing tor­ture tac­tics to in­ter­ro­gate sus­pected ter­ror­ists. He also said that while he has been crit­i­cal of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s deal with Iran on nu­clear weapons, he would carry out the pol­icy as it stands.

By The As­so­ci­ated Press

For­mer Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ben Car­son de­fended his ex­pe­ri­ence and cre­den­tials Thurs­day to serve as the na­tion’s new hous­ing sec­re­tary, turn­ing to his life story to show that he un­der­stands the needs of the most vul­ner­a­ble.

Trump wants Car­son, a for­mer White House ri­val, to lead the Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment, a sprawl­ing agency with 8,300 em­ploy­ees and a bud­get of $48 bil­lion. At his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing be­fore the Se­nate Bank­ing, House and Ur­ban Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, the re­tired neu­ro­sur­geon talked about grow­ing up in in­ner-city Detroit with a sin­gle mother who had a third-grade 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.

Rank­ing Com­mit­tee Demo­crat Sen. Sher­rod Brown of Ohio and Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, D-Mass., grilled Car­son about whether he could guar­an­tee that no HUD money would ben­e­fit Trump or his fam­ily, which has made its for­tune in real es­tate.

“I will not play fa­vorites for any­one . ... I will man­age things in a way that ben­e­fits the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” Car­son said.


De­fense Sec­re­tary-des­ig­nate James Mat­tis (right) was wel­comed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Thurs­day prior to the start of his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing. Mat­tis por­trayed Rus­sia as an ad­ver­sary and said the his­tory of U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tions is not en­cour­ag­ing.

CIA Di­rec­tor-des­ig­nate Michael Pom­peo said he ac­cepts an in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment that Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the U.S. elec­tion.


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