Democrats unnerved by Trump’s reliance on generals

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Democrats are growing uneasy with the number of generals President-elect Donald Trump has tapped for his administration, citing concerns about the amount of sway the military will have in the government.

“Frankly, I’m concerned by the number of generals President-elect Trump has chosen to serve in his administration,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “Each of these individuals have great merit in their own right. But as we’ve learned over the years, particularly in the past two decades, viewing problems in the world primarily through a military lens can be disastrous.” 

Trump has so far named three generals to top positions: retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for national security advisor, retired Gen. James Mattis for Defense secretary and retired Gen. John Kelly for secretary of Homeland Security.

There’s the potential for more. Retired Gen. David Petraeus and retired Adm. James Stavridis have been under consideration for secretary of State, and Adm. Michael Rogers, current head of the National Security Agency, is being considered for director of national intelligence.

It’s unclear whether the Democratic disquiet over the military appointees will translate into “no” votes in the confirmation process.

Mattis is highly respected for his time in the military, while Kelly is seen as a less controversial pick than other names floated for Homeland Security. Flynn’s position does not require Senate confirmation.

Mattis, who retired in 2013, would be easiest to block since he requires an exemption from Congress to bypass a law that says Defense secretaries must be out of uniform for at least seven years. The waiver must pass both chambers of Congress and requires 60 votes to pass the Senate. 

But so far just two Democrats have explicitly said they’ll vote against the waiver —Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Rep. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.).

It’s not uncommon for incoming presidents to tap retired generals. President Obama had three when he first took office: retired Gen. Jim Jones as national security adviser, retired Gen. Eric Shinseki as Veterans Affairs secretary and retired Adm. Dennis Blair as director of national intelligence.

But the selection of Mattis for Defense secretary, in contravention to the required cooling-off period, has given the impression that the military will have far more power in Trump’s administration, said retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. 

“That’s what got people’s attention right away, and then there was the continued drum beat of other senior military officers being considered and going in for meetings,” Barno said. 

Concerns also center on Trump himself — an unpredictable businessman with no government, national security or foreign policy experience.

“You’ve got a president whose judgment at least some people have questioned, who seems to be an instinct improviser, surrounding himself with people who see the world through a military filter,” said Gordon Adams, who oversaw defense budgeting for the Clinton administration. “Not a good idea.”

The problem with relying on too many generals is twofold, Adams said. First, it narrows the diversity of viewpoints advising the president. Second, he argued, it plays into the increasing militarization of the government that been seen since 9/11.

“It’s not just about expertise,” Adams said. “You don’t want to reinforce the broader trend that every problem looks like a nail, because then what we use is a hammer.”

Trump’s team has defended his Cabinet choices and the number of generals receiving top posts.

“There is no quota for the number of tough-minded, accomplished people who are qualified to do these jobs,” senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said Friday on Fox News.

Sean Spicer, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, also downplayed the concerns, saying Trump’s Cabinet picks come from diverse backgrounds, including business and government.

“This is a very, very broad group, diverse group of high-quality, high-caliber people who, in their own respective fields, whether it’s academia, business or government, have shown that they know how to get the job done,” Spicer said on PBS Newshour on Wednesday.

Republican lawmakers, too, have brushed off concerns.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who’s clashed with Trump in a number of areas, said each individual general so far is well qualified for the job for which they’ve been chosen.

“If there’s a market cap on generals, I don’t know where it’s at,” he said. “When you know the quality of the people — they all buy into civilian control more than most people probably do because they’ve been military officers who’ve been very much in the understanding of, ‘Civilian control of government is the foundational principal of our democracy.’”

Democrats remain wary. 

“It’s the G&G cabinet,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said in a statement. “It does seem to be fairly limited to Goldman Sachs and generals.”

Tags Chris Murphy Claire McCaskill Donald Trump Eric Shinseki Kirsten Gillibrand Lindsey Graham

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