The head of U.S. European Command on Thursday said President Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department would make his job more difficult in the face of an increasing Russian threat.
“I rely heavily on our relationships with the other agencies in our government,” Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who also serves as NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Scaparrotti, who testified before the committee on the state of the European Command (EUCOM), said that in their work they “have relied upon an interagency approach, a whole of government approach. That’s the way we traditionally operate.”
The White House budget blueprint for fiscal 2018, released last week, proposes a 28 percent cut to the State Department budget, among other major agency cuts, while proposing a $54 billion boost to defense spending.
The plan has been widely panned by lawmakers, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Actor John Krasinski films outside White House Biden's Supreme Court choice: A political promise, but also a matter of justice Let's 'reimagine' political corruption MORE (R-Ky.) even called the proposed State Department cuts inappropriate.
During the hearing, Committee Chairman Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden seeks to ward off second Ukraine-Russia fight Voto Latino CEO: Sinema will have a 'very difficult pathway' in 2024 reelection Meghan McCain rips 'selfish' Sarah Palin for dining out despite COVID-19 diagnosis MORE (R-Ariz.) asked Scaparrotti, “It wouldn’t help if we slashed spending for the State Department?”
“No, sir,” Scaparrotti answered.
Concern with Russian threats in Europe and elsewhere frequently came up in the hearing, as senators asked about Russian cyberattacks, nuclear programs, moves to undermine NATO and interference with U.S. efforts in the Middle East.
Scaparrotti said EUCOM hopes to obtain more troops, systems and munitions, and is coordinating with the Pentagon for “additional maneuver forces, combat air squadrons, anti-submarine capabilities, a carrier strike group and maritime amphibious capabilities.”
The U.S. military has about 62,000 troops in Europe today, down from a Cold War high of 300,000.
Lawmakers have questioned whether this is a sufficient number, and McCain said during the hearing that Pentagon leaders “still have no long-term vision for force posture in Europe.”
It is also unclear how much of Trump’s $54 billion defense increase will go to European forces and deterring Russia. Trump has taken a lax attitude toward Russia, indicating he wants better ties with the country.
Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillSenate set for muted battle over Breyer successor Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies MORE (D-Mo.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, had the harshest words for Trump’s position on Russia, alluding to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“If we want to send the right signal to Russia ... a big piece of it is having a commander in chief that will say the right things to Russia,” McCaskill said. “And we do not have a commander in chief right now who is willing to say out loud what everyone knows about Putin and what he’s doing in Europe and what he tried to do in the United States.
“Until we have a commander in chief that is willing to speak out against this thug and his behavior, I don’t know that all the great work that you and your command can do is ever going to move the needle enough.”