Live coverage: Mattis confirmation hearing for Pentagon

Greg Nash

The Hill will be providing live coverage of James Mattis’s confirmation hearing for secretary of Defense.

Committee easily passes Mattis waiver

12:47 p.m.

The committee ended its business Thursday by easily passing the waiver that would allow Mattis to serve as Defense secretary despite only retiring from military services in 2013.

The waiver passed 24-3, with Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) voting against it.

Current law says Pentagon chiefs must be out of uniform for at least seven years. The law has been waived just once, for George Marshall in 1950.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the committee, expressed concern about giving the Mattis the exception, but said his testimony Thursday and his general character convinced him to vote for it.

The waiver now goes to the Senate floor for a full Senate vote.

Mattis brushes off anticipated tensions with Flynn

12:40 p.m. 

Mattis, a retired four-star general, said he does not anticipate tensions with incoming National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, a retired Army three-star general. 

“You don’t want the tyranny of consensus of group think early,” Mattis responded.  

There are concerns that since generals carry their ranks with them into retirement, that there may be tensions between who will win policy arguments. Flynn will be in the White House and have the president’s ear, but Mattis as a retired four-star will outrank him. 

Mattis brushed off those concerns, saying the national security decision-making process is “not tidy.”  

“It’ll be respectful. Of that I’m certain,” he said. “I don’t anticipate anything but the best ideas will win.” 

Mattis says North Korea a “serious threat” 

12:38 p.m. 

Mattis batted down another attempt to get him to disagree with his prospective boss, President-elect Donald Trump. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Mattis whether he agreed with Trump’s Twitter threat that he would not let North Korea develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the state. 

Mattis demurred, saying he was not going to characterize Trump’s tweet.  

However, he said he believed it was a “serious threat,” 

“Sir, it’s a serious threat, and I believe we got to do something about it,” Mattis said. 

Asked whether he would take U.S. military force off the table, he responded, “I don’t think we should take anything off the table.” 

Mattis says Trump supports F-35

Under questioning from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mattis indicated Trump supports the F-35 program, reiterating that Trump “just wants the best bang for his buck.”

“Trump has in no way shown a lack of support for the F-35 program,” Mattis said.

Cruz pressed upon Mattis that he believes “successful completion” is “critical to mission success” both for the United States and allies that have bought the fifth-generation fighter jet.

Mattis responded by echoing that the F-35 is “critical to our own air superiority.”

Trump has repeatedly attacked the F-35, at one time suggesting he might seek to develop a comparable F-18 instead of continuing with the F-35 program.

Warren to Mattis: ‘We are counting on you’ to counter Trump

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), new to the committee, used her time to impress upon Mattis that she’s looking for him to be a check on President-elect Donald Trump.

“We are counting on you,” Warren said.

When asked by Warren in what circumstances he’d be willing to voice his opinion forcely and frankly when it differs from Trump, Mattis said, “in all circumstances.”

“I’m very glad to hear that,” Warren responded with a chuckle.

Mattis defends Trump F-35 Tweets

11:48 a.m. 

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) asked Mattis what he thought about Trump’s tweets bashing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which could constrain Mattis’ actions on the program as Defense secretary. 

“I don’t think that’s the best way to get the point across,” Hirono said. “These tweets have impacted markets.” 

“It’s not my role to comment on the President-elect’s statement,” Mattis said, sidestepping the question. 

However, he did say it “shows he is serious about getting the best bang for the dollar.” 

“That’s where I find common ground with him,” he said. “I see his statements [as] showing his serious side about keeping costs under control.” 

Mattis said he seeks to bring business reforms to the Pentagon. 

Gillibrand make Mattis answer for past comments on women, LGBT troops

11:24 a.m.

As she indicated prior to the hearing, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) spent the entirety of her time questioning Mattis’ past views on women in combat and LGBT troops and forcing him to answer for his past statements.

Mattis has said that Eros, or the greek god of love, will get in the way when men and women serve together in combat. He’s also blasted civilian leaders with “progressive agendas” pushing “social change” on the military.

“I was not in a position to go back into government when made those statements,” Mattis told Gillibrand.

He said won’t roll back the women in combat policy.

“I have no to plan to oppose women in any aspect of our military,” he said.

He also said he wouldn’t roll back allowing LGBT troops to serve openly, unless a service chief presents him with a problem that’s arisen from those policies.

“I never cared much about two consenting adults and who they go to bed with,” he said.

Still, he wouldn’t give a clear yes or no when Gillibrand asked if he believes being gay undermines lethality, just saying that it will be his job to ensure troops remain at their “most lethal.”

But when pressed later by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) on whether there’s anything innate in women or LGBT troops that would prevent them from serving in lethal force, Mattis flatly said, “No.”

Mattis: Trump “open” on NATO

11:08 a.m. 

Mattis said he sees the U.S. maintaining “the strongest possible relationship with NATO,” calming fears after the Trump frequently disparaged the alliance during his campaign.  

“I would see us maintaining the strongest possible relationship with NATO,” Mattis said. He previously served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation. 

Mattis also said Trump is “showing himself open” and has gone even further to ask questions. 

“He understands where I stand,” he said. 

Mattis might not undo integrating women in combat

Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis assuaged members of the Committee worried he might undo the integration of women in the military undertaken by the previous administration. 

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) gave a shout-out to female soldiers who have passed the rigorous Army Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood in her state of Missouri. 

Mattis, who opposed integrating women in Marine Corps infantry, replied, “The standards are the standards, and when people meets the standards, that’s the end of the discussion on that.” 


Mattis agrees with McCain on Russia

10:26 a.m.

Mattis seemed to break with his would-be boss on improving relations with Russia. 

“History is not a straight jacket, but I’ve never found a better guide,” Mattis said when pressed by McCain on whether the United States should learn from past failed attempts to engage with Putin.

Mattis said there’s a “relatively short list of successes” in improving relations with Putin.

He also said the United States must recognize that Putin is working to “break” NATO and that the United States must work with its allies to defend against Russian aggression.

Under questioning by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the committee, Mattis also said Russia has chosen to be a “strategic competitor” and that the United States needs to face that reality.

Still, he said, the United States did find a way to work with Russia in specific areas even depths of the Cold War.

Mattis signals more aggressive action against ISIS
10:20 a.m.
Former Gen. Mattis signaled he would recommend more aggressive action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in a departure from the Obama administration. 
“[The] Raqqa strategy needs to be reviewed and energized by a more aggressive timeline,” he said. 
The current strategy is to back local ground forces who are mostly Syrian Kurds and some Arab groups. 
“And then there is Russia…”

10:05 a.m.

McCain signaled that he’ll look for Mattis to answer for President-elect Donald Trump’s flattering comments on Russia.

“Putin wants to be our enemy,” McCain said.

McCain devoted a chunk of his opening remarks to list his many concerns about Russia, including its invasion of Crimea, support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, atrocities in the Syrian civil war and its interference in the U.S. election with hacking.

Putin has left, McCain said, “a trail of death and destruction in his wake.”

The last three president have tried to improve relations with Russia and failed, McCain added.

McCain hails Mattis 

9:57 a.m.  

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain began his remarks with “I for one could not be happier” that Mattis is up for Defense secretary. 

“Two years ago, the last time you came before this Committee, the idea that we would be meeting again under the present circumstances would have been hard to imagine—most of all by you. But I, for one, could not be happier,” he said. 

“Our nation needs Gen. Mattis’ service more than ever,” he added.  

McCain’s remark highlights how revered the retired four-star general is among Republicans in Congress. 

Anticipation builds for Mattis

9:20 a.m.

With just minutes to go before Mattis’s confirmation hearing begins, the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing room is packed.

A few activist groups are in the audience, including Code Pink.

In his opening statement, Mattis is expected to tout U.S. alliances and the importance of civilian control of the military.

President-elect Donald Trump has worried lawmakers by suggesting the U.S. could pull back on longtime alliances. And Mattis will need Congress to pass a waiver letting him bypass a law requiring Defense secretaries to be out of uniform for at least seven years, to preserve civilian control of the military.

Tags Claire McCaskill Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Jack Reed John McCain Kirsten Gillibrand Lindsey Graham Mazie Hirono Pentagon Richard Blumenthal Ted Cruz
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