U.S. national security would suffer greatly without Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and several top Pentagon leaders slated to leave their posts next year, a key senator said Wednesday.
Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised Mattis’ experience in light of President Donald Trump’s comments that the defense secretary was a “sort of a Democrat” and could leave his post.
A possible Mattis departure is more detrimental with Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson slated to leave their posts next year, Reed added.
“In order to maintain continuity in the Department of Defense, (Mattis’) presence is going to be absolutely critical,” the Rhode Island senator told reporters attending a breakfast roundtable at the Fairmont Washington DC Hotel Georgetown. “If he is going and there’s another secretary of defense, you are going to see next year be kind of like everybody new around the water cooler trying to figure out where the bathroom is. That’s not going to be good for national defense.”
Trump said during a CBS’ “60 Minutes’” interview aired Sunday that he has a very good relationship with Mattis, the two get along “very well” and called him a “good guy.” But he also said Mattis might leave.
The comments were a signal to some Washington insiders that Trump might force Mattis out following the Nov. 6 midterm elections. Several media reports in the past year have suggested that Trump and Mattis have had diverging views on approaches to national security.
“I mean, at some point, everybody leaves,” Trump said. “Everybody. People leave. That’s Washington.”
Reed said he thinks other lawmakers on Capitol Hill would also push back against a Trump plan to force out Mattis.
“It would be very inappropriate and would not be helpful to national security. I don’t think I’d be alone” in that thinking on Capitol Hill, he said.
Reed also said Mattis, a former Marine Corps general, has provided critical stability at a time when national security sorely needed it, as well as insightful advice without bias.
“Secretary Mattis is one of the most gifted secretaries I’ve had the privilege of working with. He has great experience. In fact, unusual experience. He’s been a Marine leader from platoon all the way up to Central Command. He does provide unique insight,” he said. “He’s a scholar as well. He is someone who is very thoughtful and he is somebody that I think is just so committed to the country and to the men and women he leads. I think he’s a remarkable and inspiring figure for the [Defense Department].”
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