Return to Transcripts main page
Trump's Defense & CIA Picks Face Senate; Mattis Senate Confirmation Hearing. Aired 9:30-10a ET
Aired January 12, 2017 - 09:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:30:00] REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH), MEMBER, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: And we know what those key issues are, Obamacare, securing the border, all those -- all those key things. But I think Mike Pompeo will handle himself immensely well today in the hearing.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We know that -- yes, no -- no, he's got a very good reputation in the House of Representatives.
BLITZER: A conservative. A strong conservative. But on the intelligence community, even Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on that committee, has spoken very highly of him. So I assume he will go through. What if he's asked a sensitive question like we heard Rex Tillerson asked yesterday by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, is Vladimir Putin a war criminal, how do you think he should respond to that?
JORDAN: I mean, again, look, I don't want to get into all the hypotheticals of what he may or may not be asking, try to answer for Mike Pompeo. What I do know is this. I think the strategy of engaging with Russia, but also being tough. And I -- I think back to Reagan. We conservatives like to do that. When Reagan was willing to engage and negotiate with and work with this -- then the Soviet Union, but he was also willing to walk away, like he did in Iceland when it was a ridiculous thing that they were trying to get an agreement.
BLITZER: All right.
JORDAN: So that, to me, seems to be the approach Mike Pompeo has. More importantly, I think that's the approach that President-elect Trump will have.
BLITZER: Congressman Jim Jordan, thanks very much for joining us.
JORDAN: You bet. Thank you.
BLITZER: John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has now begun this hearing.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), CHAIRMAN, SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: You will be notified and asked that the -- the committee will immediately proceed to consideration of Senate Bill 84, which is to provide for an exception to a limitation against appointment of persons as secretary of defense within seven years of relief from active duty as a regular commissioned officer of the armed forces.
This bill, when enacted, would authorize retired general James Mattis to be appointed as secretary of defense. It's important that we have all members present for the consideration of that bill and when there's about 15 minutes left in questioning, you'll be notified and I hope people will all come back to vote on this important issue of the waiver. Good morning and I would like to first recognize two of our distinguished colleagues who are here today, former colleagues.
We were all three together during the Coolidge administration and...
... and we're very glad to see you back here again. And I don't know if -- should we do the opening statements or have them?
MCCAIN: Have them -- so, I -- I know that in the interest of our friends' times maybe we could begin with Senator Nunn and Senator Cohen, making their introductory remarks and we're honored to have you back before the committee. Again, two very distinguished -- most distinguished members that I have had the opportunity and honor to serve with.
In deference to your age, Senator Nunn, we'll begin with you.
FMR. SEN. SAM NUNN (D), GEORGIA: Here we go. Can you hear me, OK? Thank you, Chairman McCain and Senator Reed. It's a great honor to return to the Senate Armed Services Committee with my good friend for many years, as you observed, Mr. Chairman, Bill Cohen on the purpose of introducing Jim Mattis on his nomination to be secretary of Defense.
Before praising our distinguished nominee, and I will praise him because I think he deserves it, I want to commend you, Senator McCain and Senator Reed and the members of this committee, for your excellent work in passing significant reform legislation in the most recent Congress.
Your continuous efforts to make our military more efficient and more effective are essential to our nation's security and we owe you our thanks. I know from experience reform is not easy. Everything you do is tough in that arena and it doesn't get the notice that it deserves except for the people who oppose the reform. Those are the ones who notice it. So, congratulations on that legislation and I know there's a lot more to do, but you've made some progress.
I also want to commend my good friend and congratulate my good friend, Senator David Perdue, for becoming a member of this committee and continuing a strong Georgia tradition of service on what I believe is the best committee in the Senate.
Mr. Chairman, Senator Reed, and members of the committee, in September of 1950, my great-uncle, Carl Vinson, as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, presented to the House of Representatives a strong case for Congress to pass a waiver to allow General George Marshall to assume the position of secretary of defense. So, there's some history here.
NUNN: Today, I urge you to pass the same type of waiver for Jim Mattis, who retired from the Marine Corps three-and-a-half years ago. I believe that the law requiring a secretary of Defense to be out of active duty at least seven years does remain relevant today.
But there is also a good reason that there can be, on occasion, case by case, common-sense exceptions through congressional actions.
The Congressional Research Service has written an excellent paper on the legislative history of the separation for military service requirements. When the original statute was passed in 1947, the Department of Defense had just been created by merging the Department of War and the Department of Navy.
There were several very famous generals and admirals, emerging from World War II, who are highly publicized heroes, including a few five stars. And Congress did not want one service overpowering the newly created department. So that, to me, is an important part of the history of this legislation.
Mr. Chairman, Senator Reed and committee members, I believe that exceptions to this restriction should be based on the experience, the skills and the character of a nominee and our country's need to ask them to serve in this important role.
I also believe that your examination of Jim Mattis' credentials, character and record will convince you that he, like George Marshall, should be granted a waiver and confirmed as secretary of Defense.
Mr. Chairman, I've followed Jim's career for a long time because when I was chairman of this committee, my Staff Director Arnold Punaro, who's here today, also a Marine repeatedly told me that a young officer by the name of Jim Mattis was demonstrating strong leadership capabilities and had a very long runway ahead.
Mr. Chairman and Senator Reed and Chris (ph) and Liz and members of the staff who know Arnold Punaro, will understand my reluctance to ever admit that Arnold was always right. But in the case of Jim Mattis, he was dead on point.
Jim Mattis became one of our nation's most effective and respected military leaders. Jim has the experience and skill to be an excellent secretary of Defense. He has the deep knowledge about the many challenges we face around the world today.
He understands not only the importance of civilian control of the military, but he's also written the book, so to speak, on the relationship of today's voluntary force and civil society, which deserves a great deal of attention. Jim's experience as combatant commander, clearly demonstrated his ability to effectively work with diplomats and national leaders.
Mr. Chairman, Senator Reed and members of the committee, over the last three years, Jim Mattis has become fully engaged in civilian life, from the world of business to the NGO world to the college campus. He has quickly learned the, what I call, the Admiral Crowe (ph) rule that after retirement as a four-star, if you jump into the back seat of your car, you will go nowhere until you move to the driver's seat and turn over the key. He learned that one, pretty quickly.
Jim Mattis has been a valuable corporate board member and has learned business lessons that will help him make the Defense of Defense more efficient. Jim has gone from the Marine Corps spit and polish, to the business coat and tie to, whatever they wear on campus, these days. As a professor, he has developed a rapport with young students by quickly figuring out they are not quite the same as Parris Island recruits.
In summary, Mr. Chairman, Jim Mattis is a rare combination of thinker and doer, scholar and strategist. He understands, respects and loves the men and women in uniform and their families. He also understands the structure and the organization of the Pentagon and he knows what the building has to do to give the troops the tools they need to do their job of protecting our nation's security.
Jim also knows the awesome powers and responsibility of our military forces and the challenges of our complex and very dangerous world. He understands that our military cannot be our primary tool to meet every challenge. And he strongly supports the important role of diplomacy and has been outspoken in the important need of giving the State Department the resources they need, to be fully effective.
My bottom line, Mr. Chairman and Senator Reed and members of the committee, is that I believe Jim Mattis is exceptionally well- qualified to lead the Department of Defense. I urge this committee and the Senate to pass a statutory waiver to allow him to serve our nation in this new role and to confirm him as secretary of Defense.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MCCAIN: Thank you, Senator Nunn.
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
(OFF-MIKE) be here this morning to testify on behalf of General Mattis.
Senator Nunn, Senator Reed, Senator Inhofe, I think you may be the only three who were still here in the Armed Services Committee when 20 years ago, I came before the committee seeking your endorsement for secretary of defense.
So, it's been 20 years and what a difference a generation makes because at that time, you -- when we first met, you were a young captain in the Navy and took us on a trip Senator Nunn mentioned, to China where we met Deng Xiaoping and also did some great work on the way back in -- in Korea.
So I thank you for all of the years you've devoted to this -- this country. You remain a hero of mine and to millions of people, not only in this country, but the world over so it's a real honor for me to be here with you.
(UNKNOWN): Thank you.
COHEN: And with Senator Nunn. I served 18 years here in the Senate, he served 24. And I must say that the experience of working with Senator Nunn was one of the true highlights of my political career. So it's a pleasure of me (ph) to join with Senator Nunn. I want to associate myself with the remarks of the former senator from Georgia and simply submit my own written statement, which is quite brief, to the committee and I'll try to summarize.
Jim Mattis, I first met when I went to the Pentagon, he was a young Colonel and as Senator Nunn has pointed out, he had a reputation even then. This is somebody to watch. He's young, he's smart, he doesn't really belong behind a desk, although he may belong there right now. But at that time, he wanted to get out into the field. He is a warrior by nature and I want to say that he has a nickname of Mad Dog, it's a misnomer, it should be Braveheart because what really characterizes Jim Mattis is his courage.
And, Mr. Chairman, you have written about this in terms of why courage matters and you quoted from Churchill, who said that courage is the first of human resources because it guarantees all else, all the others. And so we're (ph) seeing the history of Jim Mattis, in terms of being a warrior, a braveheart on the battlefield. But that's not really why we're here. If he were only a great warrior, you'd say well, there are a lot of other warriors, as well.
He comes because he is a man of thought as well as action. And sometimes it's said you can judge a people by the friends he makes, the company he keeps, but also by the books he reads. General Mattis has some 6,000 books in his library, most of which, if not all of them, he has read and he can refer to either Alexander the Great, General Grant, Sun Tzu. I suspect he's probably the only one here at this table who can hear the words Thucydides Trap and not have to go to Wikipedia to find out what it means. And so, he is a scholar as well, and a strategic thinker as well as a great warrior.
These hearings are important, not only because you get a chance to listen to the views of the nominee in terms of what is his or her -- in this case his experience, what does he see is the world events that we're going to be confronted with, what does he bring to the table in terms of getting you confidence that the person making that judgment, and after all, he's number two. He's number two in the chain of command. It goes from the president through him, to the combatant commanders. That's it.
That's why it's so important that you have a chance, not only to assess his background experience, but also his character. That really is what you need to know because no one goes to the secretary of Defense or any major position and can anticipate everything that's going to come at him. They talk about the tyranny of the inbox, well you have it -- tyranny of the inbox -- in the Pentagon. And things come at you with the velocity of a heat-seeking missile.
And so you have to, then, look and say how do I deal with this. Who is it who's making the decision? And in that case, I think you should take great confidence in this man who understands what it means to be in battle. He understands what it means not to go into battle. And he has -- the love for his troops is returned in a way that I've not seen before.
COHEN: His troops, men and women alike in all services, love this man. And they love him because he loves them and what they do for our country. What they're willing to risk for our country. And so you look at his character, he's a humble man with very little to be humble about.
But if you were to go to his hometown and see that he's a devoted son to his 94 year old mother, Lucille, in Richland, Washington. If you looked you'd see he's a member of the board of the Tri-City Foodbank and on any occasion you can out see him helping to distribute food to need -- needy families.
And you'll also see him refuse to exempt himself from jury duty. He was called to serve on a jury involving a gross misdemeanor case, he could have been exempted, but he said, no I'm here to serve. So he's one of six people in that -- in that Benton County District Court.
Beyond that, what is most impressive to me is that he takes the time without any fanfare to visit the Gold Star families. That is something that is a heavy, heavy responsibility. To go the families of -- talk to the people who've lost their sons and daughters, husbands, wives in battle under his command.
And so it tells me a lot about who Jim Mattis is and why you should take that into account. And finally you'll let me -- I feel a senatorial speech coming on so I'll try to just sum up right now.
One of my -- one of my other heroes, in addition to Senator McCain, Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior and he's a hero because he not only was a great Supreme Court Justice, he was also a veteran of the Civil War. And you cannot read any opinion of his without seeing how he reflects back upon his time in battle. And there's a great, I think it's 1894 Memorial Day speech you all should read.
But in the conclusion of the speech he says, whether a man accepts from fortune a -- spade and will look downward and dig or from aspiration for axe and cord and will scale the ice, the one and only success that is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart.
Members of the committee, this man, Jim Mattis brings to the job of the secretary of Defense a great and brave heart and I hope you will vote to confirm him quickly.
Thank you. MCCAIN: I want to thank both Senator Nunn and Senator Cohen. I view as one of the great privileges of my time here in the United States Senate, was the honor of serving with both of you. And so I think it mean a lot, to me personally, but also to members of the committee that you would come here today on behalf -- on behalf of this nominee. Thank you for being here.
COHEN: And could I pay special recognition to Senator King?
COHEN: I was going to add, from the great state of Maine. And someone we used to call governor and now proudly call senator. Nice to see you.
MCCAIN: He represents the geriatric part of this committee.
(UNKNOWN): Led by...
MCCAIN: I thank both Senator Nunn and Senator Cohen for being here.
Obviously the committee meets today to consider the nomination of General James Mattis to be the secretary of Defense of the United States. Two years ago, General Mattis, 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.
All of us recognize the unique, indeed historic nature of this nomination. General Mattis enjoyed a long and distinguished career in uniform, but currently law would bar him from serving as secretary of Defense for three more years. Well, I strongly support retaining the law. I also believe our nation needs General Mattis's service more than ever.
So after this hearing, the committee will meet to consider special legislation to allow General Mattis to serve as secretary of Defense. If confirmed, General Mattis would have the honor of leading a team of Americans who represent everything that is noble an best in our nation.
Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines do everything we ask of them and more. They make us proud every day. Our many defense civil servants also sacrifice day in and day out for our national security and rarely get the credit they deserve. I'm confident that no one appreciates our people and values their sacrifices more than General Mattis.
And yet as we meet today, at a time of increasing global threat and disorder, for seven decades the United States has played a unique role in the world. We've not only put America first, but we've done so by maintaining and advancing a world order that has expanded security, prosperity and freedom.
This has required our alliances, our trade, our diplomacy, our values, but most of all, our military for when would be aggressors aspire to threaten world order. It's the global striking power of America's armed forces that must deter or thwart their ambitions.
Too many Americans -- too many Americans seem to have forgotten this in recent years. Too many have forgotten that our world order is not self-sustaining. Too many have forgotten that while the threats we face may not have purely military solutions, they all have military dimensions.
In short, too many have forgotten that hard power matters. Having it, threatening it, leveraging it for diplomacy and at times, using it. Fairly or not, there is a perception around the world that America is weak and distracted. And that has only emboldened our adversaries to challenge the current world order.
The threat posed by violent Islamic extremism continues to metastasize across Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe. And -- but for those who remain vigilant, our home land. It should now be clear that we will be engaged in a global conflict of varying scope and -- and intensity for the foreseeable future. Believing otherwise is wishful thinking.
So, if confirmed, General Mattis, you would lead a military at war. You of all people appreciate what that means and what it demands. At the same time, our central challenge in the Middle East is not ISIL. As grave a threat as that is, it is a breakdown of regional order in which nearly every state is a battlefield for conflict, a combatant or both.
ISIL is a symptom of this disorder. At the same time, Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions have been postponed but not halted. And it continues to modernize its military, expand its malign influence and seek to remake the region in its image from Syria, to Iraq, to Yemen.
In Asia, the rise of China is shifting the balance of power in ways that increasingly challenge long-standing U.S. interests. We see a new assertiveness to confront U.S. allies and partners, make vast territorial claims with no basis in international law, carve our spheres of influence, and revise the current order.
North Korea is testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles at an alarming rate. Our intelligence community publicly assesses that North Korea could soon develop a nuclear capability capable inter- continental ballistic missile that is capable of striking the U.S. homeland. This may become a defining crisis for the next president.
And then there's Russia. Over the past eight years under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, threatened NATO allies, intervened militarily in Syria leaving a trail of death and destruction and broken promises in his wake.
Russia's military has targeted Syrian hospitals and first responders with precision weapons. Russia supplied the weapons that shot down a commercial aircraft over Ukraine. Russia's war on Ukraine has killed thousand of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. And in the most flagrant demonstration of Putin's disdain and disrespect for our nation, Russia deliberately interfered in our recent election with cyber attacks and disinformation campaign designed to weaken America and discredit western values.
Each of our last three presidents has had great expectations of building a partnership with the Russian government. Each attempt has failed. Not for lack of good faith and effort on the U.S. side, but because of a stubborn fact that we must finally recognize, Putin wants to be our enemy. He needs us as his enemy. He will never be our partner, including in fighting ISIL. He believes that strengthening Russia means weakening America.
We must proceed realistically on this basis. We must build a position of significant strength vis-a-vis Russia and any other adversary that seeks to undermine our national interests and challenge the world order. We must reestablish deterrence and that is primarily the job of the Department of Defense.
But for too long, the Department of Defense has planned and optimized itself for short-term episodic contingencies. Whether against great powers or global terrorist movements, we now face a series of long- term strategic competitions with clear military dimensions that often occur below the threshold of armed conflict.
What makes all of this worse is that America's military technological advantage is eroding. Our competitors, especially China and Russia, have gone to school on the American way of war and they are rapidly modernizing their militaries to exploit our vulnerabilities with advanced anti-access and aerial denial capabilities.
MCCAIN: Indeed, the entire model of American military power projection is increasingly being called into question on land, at sea, and in the air, and especially in space and cyberspace.
In light of these threats, business as usual is not just misguided, it is dangerous. All of these problems are compounded by the self- inflicted wounds of the Budget Control Act. For five years, national defense spending has been arbitrarily capped as global threats have risen, defense spending has often fallen in real terms.
Each military service has deferred critical modernization and shed capacity which has damaged readiness. Worse still, what we do spend is producing less combat power. In constant dollars, we spend nearly exactly same amount on defense as we did 30 years ago.
But we are fielding 35 percent fewer combat brigades, 53 percent fewer ships and 63 percent future combat aircraft squadrons. All this, while overhead costs that did not add to combat power, have steadily increased.
In short, we have done grave harm to our military, as each of our Joints Chiefs of Staff has repeatedly testified to this committee. Meanwhile, our national debt has increased nearly $4 trillion over the life of the Budget Control Act.
The president-elect says he wants to quote, "Fully eliminate the defense sequester," and quote, "Rebuild our military." If so, he will find many allies on this committee.
The Budget Control Act is harming us in ways that our enemies could only dream. We must repeal this legislation and increase the defense top line. This will not be cheap, but it pales in comparison to the cost of failing to deter a war, or worse, losing one.
For all these reasons and more, I believe the nation needs General Mattis. We need to stop deterring ourselves and return to strategy, aligning our ins, ways and means to address global threats. We need to resize and more importantly, reshape our military, giving our war fighters the most advanced capabilities, so they never find themselves in a fair fight.
We must continue to reform the Department of Defense so more of its limited dollars are spent on increasing the lethality of our military, not adding to its bureaucracy. That especially means improving defense acquisition which still takes too long and costs too much to deliver too little. I'd like to conclude by saying a few words about trust and accountability and about the relationship between this committee and the Department of Defense. One of the few benefits of my advanced age, is the sense of perspective it affords.
In recent years, I have witnessed a steady loss of trust and deterioration of relations between Congress and the department. It is felt on both sides and there's plenty of blame to go around. Department leaders have too often treated members of Congress as afterthoughts to be notified, not partners to be meaningfully consulted.
And Congress has too often sought to bend the department to its will, through ever growing amounts of legislation, trying to manage it from afar rather than oversee it. We cannot afford to go on like this. Our challenges are too grave.
The wide margin for error we once enjoyed in the world is gone. We need to take more risk if we are to maintain our strategic and technological advantage. We cannot let fear of failure slow us or stop us from innovating.
These are challenges that the Department of Defense and the Congress, especially this committee, must manage together. The only way to restore this trust, is to start trusting each other. If confirmed, you would have to trust us to be your partners in major decision-making and in sharing the greater risks that are necessary to win in a more competitive world.
In return, if you will be accountable to us and you will be, we must trust you to determine how best to get the results we demand with fewer statutory and regulatory impediments. In short, let's make it our common mission to restore accountability. If we can do that, though the threats we face may be grave, I am confident we can succeed.
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI), RANKING MEMBER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Let me join you in welcoming General Mattis this morning's hearing. I thank him for his many decades of distinguished service to the country and to the Marine Corps and I appreciate his willingness to return to -- to public service, this time in a civilian capacity.
And in addition, let me also recognize and thank Senator Sam Nunn and Senator and Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, for their distinguished service and their very thoughtful, eloquent words this morning. Thank you, gentlemen.
General Mattis began his long and distinguished career in the United States Marine Corps as the second lieutenant commissioned to the ROTC program at Central Washington University.
[10:00:03] He has served the highest echelons of the Marine Corps and capped as service as the commander of the United States Central Command.