The Insider

Mattis won't testify before House Armed Services Committee

January 11, 2017 |
Tony Bertuca
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The House Armed Services Committee has canceled a Thursday hearing with retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for defense secretary, because, according to congressional aides, the Trump transition team requested it.

"Gen. Mattis agreed to testify and the transition pulled him," one aide told Inside Defense.

Mattis will still have a busy Thursday as he is scheduled to begin the day testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is meeting to consider his nomination and is scheduled to vote immediately afterward on legislation to exempt him from an existing law which forbids any former military officers from being appointed defense secretary unless they have spent at least seven years out of uniform.

The House Armed Services Committee first announced Tuesday that Mattis was scheduled to appear. The committee, which has no role in confirming Mattis, will still vote Thursday on whether to grant him an exemption to serve under current law. 

Neither the committee or the transition team has officially responded to queries on the canceled hearing, which comes a day after media reports alleging the U.S. intelligence community is investigating Trump's possible ties with Russia.

Barron Youngsmith, a spokesman for Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said a statement was forthcoming.

"This is not a minor issue. This is a major issue affecting the principle of civilian control of the military, and Ranking Member Smith believes deeply that Gen. Mattis should come speak with the members about it," Youngsmith said.

Some Democrats have voiced concerns about the possible erosion of civilian control of the military if Mattis is confirmed, but two defense analysts told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the former general should be granted an exception.

Prominent Trump critic and former State Department official Eliot Cohen, now an analyst at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, told the committee that Mattis would prevent "wildly stupid, dangerous, or illegal things from happening."

"I have sharply criticized President Obama's policies, but my concerns pale in comparison with the sense of alarm I feel about the judgment and dispositions about the incoming White House team," Cohen said.

Kathleen Hicks, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Mattis should be confirmed, but viewed him as a "rare, generational" exception because of his particular qualifications.