Pen­tagon pick cruis­ing to­ward con­fir­ma­tion

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - NATION - By Robert Burns Robert Burns is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

WASH­ING­TON— Re­tired Gen. James Mat­tis on Thurs­day cruised to­ward likely con­fir­ma­tion as Don­ald Trump’s de­fense sec­re­tary, eas­ily 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 Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee backed the waiver in a 34-28 vote; the full House will take up the mat­ter Fri­day.

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 and will al­most cer­tainly con­firm him.

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

It was un­clear if Pres­i­dent Obama would sign the leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing Mat­tis to take up the post, or if 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 ISIS 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.”

He 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.

Mark Wil­son / Getty Im­ages

Wil­liam Co­hen (right), de­fense sec­re­tary for Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, in­tro­duced re­tired Ma­rine Corps Gen. James Mat­tis as a “hum­ble man with very lit­tle to be hum­ble about.”

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