House panel narrowly backs Mattis waiver

Senate committee debates civilian control of the military before Mattis hearingsMore

GIllibrand then followed up by asking if, in light of comments he made in his book and on the subsequent book tour, if he feels that "openly serving homosexuals along with women in combat units is undermining our force".

"I think it's under the biggest attack since World War II, sir, and that's from Russian Federation, from terrorist groups and with what China is doing in the South China Sea", Mattis said Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mattis also said he understands that his role as the Defense Department's civilian leader would be different "in essence and in substance" from his role while in uniform.

Mattis' hard line on Russian Federation was particularly noteworthy the day after Rex Tillerson, Trump's nominee for secretary of state, faced tough questioning from Republicans and Democrats over his views on the same subject.

Senators are expected to ask Mr Mattis how he would grapple with Iran's influence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and beyond.

Trump has "in no way shown a lack of support for the (F-35) program".

"The committee has a right and a responsibility to inquire of Gen. Mattis why he thinks there ought to be a waiver, and what the ramifications of a waiver are, and what importance he thinks that the seven-year waiting period has - to get his view on it", Hoyer said. "I'm not sure that's bad, but it's possible".

Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said he expected Mr Mattis would not have a hard time securing the nomination, partly because he enjoys the support of both Democrats and Mr Trump's Republicans.

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The House is expected to vote on the matter on Friday.

The legislation, approved 81-17, excuses Mattis from a requirement that members of the military be separated from the service for at least seven years before being eligible to run the Pentagon. Mattis retired from the Marine Corps as a four-star general in 2013. "Iran is the biggest destabilising force in the Middle East and its policies are contrary to our interests", Mattis said in his written responses.

Mattis was introduced by former Senators Sam Nunn (D-Georgia) and William Cohen (D-Maine), who also served as Defense Secretary under Bill Clinton.

Following the Senate Armed Services Committee's bipartisan 24-3 vote, the full-chamber voted 81-17 vote to in favor of the waiver.

"Now, having said that, I want to make it clear I think most Democrats think General Mattis may well be the best appointee to the Cabinet that Trump has made", Hoyer said.

Mattis also showed deference to civilian control of the military in seeking a waiver from Congress to allow him to succeed outgoing Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

The Senate's Intelligence Committee will hold another confirmation hearing today for Rep. Mike Pompeo (R) of Kansas, selected by Trump to head the CIA.

Asked to comment on the recent controversial decision by the Obama administration to abstain from a United Nations vote condemning Israel for building Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory, Mattis chose not to wade into those turbulent waters.

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