Pentagon pick likely to get waiver to serve in Cabinet
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.