The Senate Armed Services Committee voted nearly unanimously on Wednesday to confirm Gen (Ret.) James “Mad Dog” Mattis to be the nation’s next secretary of defense.
Mattis now faces the final hurdle of a full senate vote before being able to fill the top Pentagon job.
The retired Marine Corps general is expected to sail through his confirmation vote, given the Senate is controlled by the Republicans and a waiver to allow him to serve passed with strong bi-partisan support (81-17) earlier this month.
Without the waiver, current law requires a military officer to wait 7 years after service before being eligible to be secretary of defense. Mattis retired inside this window in 2013.
The last officer who was granted this exemption was World War II hero General George C. Marshall, who became the defense secretary a little less than five years after serving as chief of staff of the Army.
During his confirmation hearing, Mattis, 66, broke with President-elect Trump on the issues of the threat posed by Russia and the Iran nuclear deal.
“I think right now, the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with in Mr. Putin and we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance and we take the integrated steps — diplomatic, economic, military and the alliance steps, working with our allies — to defend ourselves where we must,” Mattis said.
He did appear to be in agreement with Trump in seeking to work with and be on friendly terms with Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin, when possible, but sees that currently as a shrinking universe.
“I’m all for engagement, but we also have to recognize reality and what Russia is up to,” Mattis said. “There is a decreasing number of areas where we can engage cooperatively and an increasing number of areas where we’re going to have to confront Russia.”
There also seemed to be some daylight between Trump and his secretary of defense pick concerning the Iran nuclear deal.
“I think this is an imperfect arms control agreement–it’s not a friendship treaty,” Mattis said. “But when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.”
Trump described the deal as “horrible,” a “disaster” and the “worst ever negotiated.” While he wanted to rip it up during the presidential campaign, he is now calling for it to be renegotiated.
All of my Cabinet nominee are looking good and doing a great job. I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2017
In the context of Mattis and other cabinet nominees expressing views different from his own, Trump tweeted on Friday, “I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!”
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