Senators would do well to practice diplomacy with Retired Gen. James Mattis during his confirmation hearing for the next secretary of defense, experts say, especially since one topic will likely be President-elect Donald Trump's controversial praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Washington Timesquotes experts such as Mackenzie Eaglen, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, as saying, "You can't be dismissive of Mattis outright, even if you want to be dismissive of Trump":
One key issue on which Mattis will face questions is Trump's dismissal of Russia, even as current military leaders rank it as one of the top two threats facing America. Eaglen said Trump has an inverted view from the current staff in the Pentagon and many on Capitol Hill. While the Pentagon currently ranks threats facing the U.S. with China and Russia at the top and terrorism near the bottom, Trump has appeared to not take seriously threats from either Russia or China, Eaglen said.
"They're going to want to really pin Mattis down in the hopes of boxing in Mr. Trump or educating him on their strong beliefs and give him an expectation of what they hope to see in the [fiscal 2018] budget," she said.
The Mattis confirmation hearing — a process that will require a special waiver allowing the retired general to serve despite not being out of uniform the requisite amount of time — should come quickly and is very probably near the top of the 115th Congress' calendar, the Times reports.
Hearing topics, in addition to Trump's expressed relationship with Russia, will also likely involve questions about NATO, nuclear modernization, plans to defeat the Islamic State, and President Barack Obama's Iran deal. There is also the matter of the "littoral combat ship, since the number the country is buying has been at the center of a public spat between the Defense Department and Navy leadership," according to the Times.
Trump has also made a streamlined defense budget part of his plan, recently making headlines by focusing on what he considers exorbitant costs of Boeing's Air Force One and Lockheed Martin's F-35.
The Mattis pick is largely looked on favorably by congressional leadership, and some experts predict an easy confirmation hearing that may be used as a way to introduce their concerns over some of the less favorable cabinet picks floated by Trump. From The Times:
While the confirmation hearing is for Mattis, Eaglen said she expected lawmakers to subtly put their opinion on the record with regard to other nominees as well. Senators are likely to ask questions about the overseas contingency operations account, a source of funding not affected by Budget Control Act caps that has been criticized as a slush fund, including by Trump's pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.
"You're going to see [Senate Armed Services Committee] Republicans very wary of the Mulvaney pick, but they won't say that. They'll talk about OCO to get at their nervousness," she said.
Trump has expressed a desire to have Mattis confirmed shortly after he's inaugurated on Jan. 20.