Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Nomination of James Mattis To Be Secretary Of Defense

Today I will vote for James Mattis to be the next Secretary of Defense.  General Mattis stands out as a top-practitioner in his field.  He has earned – and rightly deserves – near-universal respect.  While I opposed the hurried waiving of a carefully considered statutory cooling off period for members of the military before they can become eligible for this civilian position, I made clear then, and restate now, that my opposition to this waiver was never about General Mattis himself.

I was grateful when General Mattis said in his confirmation hearing that even from his first days as a Marine, he has observed that in the photographs on the walls of Department of Defense establishments, the civilians in suits were above those of the men and women in uniforms.  I was pleased that he vowed to uphold that meaningful tradition.  I am confident that as the President’s top advisor on matters of defense, as Secretary, General Mattis will carefully provide considered defense advice, maximizing the wisdom of not only the active, reserve, and National Guard, but the whole of the Department of Defense, including Department civilians.

Donald Trump will sorely need that experience and advice.  Last weekend, President Trump again denigrated our NATO allies, a partnership that President Kennedy very much had in mind when he vowed at his own inauguration to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, and oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”  General Mattis clearly understands the value of our NATO alliance.  His condemnation of Russia’s efforts to “break” NATO stands in stark contrast to the position of the man who has nominated him, and, to me, demonstrates the sound, experienced reasoning that will provide a necessary balance to President Trump.

I do harbor reservations about General Mattis’s past statements as a private citizen related to equality within the ranks of our service members.  I would have much preferred to hear General Mattis renounced those past statements, but I do appreciate that, in his confirmation hearings, he said that there is nothing innate about gender or orientation that makes someone a better soldier than another.  I believe the results of the progress made under President Obama will show clearly that the nation succeeds when it has the best individuals serving to their fullest potential in the position that best matches his or her abilities.

The Secretary of Defense is, of course, a critically important position.  There are countless difficult choices General Mattis will have to make in steering the Department in a direction that more effectively utilizes its budget to respond to today’s rapidly evolving challenges.  And whether it is the persistent, shockingly high rates of sexual assault within the Armed Forces and of suicide among young veterans, or the need for far more rigorous oversight of defense resources to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse, the next Secretary will need to demonstrate that the Department is capable of effectively addressing its own internal problems, in addition to defending the Nation.

In these unsettling times, General Mattis will provide a voice of experience and reason to what, by all accounts, looks to be an undisciplined, impulsive and inexperienced Commander in Chief.  On the Appropriations Committee and in other ways, I look forward to working closely with General Mattis in this new role.

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