Minister of defence-designate James Mattis testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, at the confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON – The Republican-led Congress is moving quickly to pave the way for retired Gen. James Mattis to run the Pentagon, winning the support of Democrats who believe he will be a stronghold for a president-elect fear they will wear, are impulsive, bombastic style in the White House.
The support underlines concerns about Donald Trump’s hunger of military and foreign policy experience, and the bipartisan respect Mattis grown on Capitol Hill during his 44 years in the army.
The House on Friday is expected to introduce legislation over a legal barrier that prevents Mattis of becoming Trump’s minister of defence. The bill would then be sent to the White House.
It was unclear whether President Barack Obama would sign the legislation, or if it would fall Trump after his inauguration.
The Senate cleared a similar measure easily, 81-17, after 30 Democrats including Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico to back the bill. The legislation is separate from the Senate a confirmation vote on Mattis, but detects that there is no real obstacle for the approval of Trump’s choice shortly after the president-elect is sworn in next week.
Heinrich said Thursday that lawmakers need to consider “the temperament of the incoming White House team” at the decision to grant an exception to the law that bars former service members who have been out of uniform for less than seven years of keeping the top of the Pentagon job. The limitation is intended to preserve the civilian control over the military. Mattis retired from the marine Corps in 2013.
Heinrich asked Mattis during his Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing to assure lawmakers he would be “a good policy and guidance” Trump card, especially in connection with the possible use of nuclear weapons.
Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the committee’s top Democrat, also behind the exemption laws because Mattis would act as a “counterweight” to Trump. Reed says many Americans are rightly concerned about how Trump can respond when he is being tested by Russia, Iran, or North Korea, or is confronted with a cyber attack from an unknown source.
Reed called Mattis a “gap exception.”
Mattis faced no hostile questions during the hearing. He called Russia the country’s No. 1 security threat, and the suspect is the leader, President Vladimir Putin of trying to “break” of the NATO.
He described Iran as a major destabilizing force, the so-called North Korea a potential nuclear threat and said that the U.S. army should be larger and more ready for the fight.
“We see every day of a world awash in change,” Mattis said. “Our country is still at war in Afghanistan and our troops are fighting against the ISIS and other terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere. Russia is the increase of serious problems on several fronts, and China is the reduction of trust along the periphery.”
Mattis Russia portrayed as an enemy and said that the history of the AMERICAN-Russian relations is not encouraging.
“I have very modest expectations for the areas of cooperation with Mr. Putin,” he said, delivering an assessment is very different from that of his prospective commander in chief. Trump has repeatedly praised Putin, even as the U.S. intelligence services have accused the Russian leader of orchestrating a campaign of interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.
“He is trying to break into the North-Atlantic alliance,” Mattis said Putin.
He said that he has declared to Trump his vision of Russia, who have a deep worry that Moscow is determined to use intimidation and nuclear threats to create an atmosphere of unstable states on its periphery.
Mattis, who has served in numerous high military positions, including commander of the U.S. Central Command in the costs of all American troops in the Middle East, said he supports the Obama administration’s moves to reassure the European allies following Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and military activity in the east of Ukraine.
While the U.S. should remain open to working with Russia, Mattis said, the prospects for cooperation were narrowing even as areas of disagreement to grow larger.
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