Sen. Inhofe: Trump Pick For Defense Secretary Is 'Right One For This Time'
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Another busy day on Capitol Hill. More of President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet picks are testifying, including secretary of defense nominee General James Mattis. Republican Senator Jim Inhofe is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he's one of the people putting questions to General Mattis today.
I asked him about the claims that Russia has compromising personal information on Trump and whether there was anything in those unverified documents that gives the senator pause.
JIM INHOFE: Trump is now going to be president. And I think these people who are in denial are going to have to get over it. If there's anything that could have been done that would damage him irreparably, it would have been done before the campaign, before the vote took place. So I look at this, and I think some people don't like Trump. And that's their problem. They're going to have to live with it for at least four years.
MARTIN: The chairman of your committee, John McCain, reportedly handed this dossier over to the FBI, clearly thinking that it had some significance. At this point, would you like to see the FBI pursuing this?
INHOFE: No, I don't think so. You know, I don't always agree with John McCain, and as you know, as everyone who's listening to us right now knows, John has not been real close to Trump. He wasn't someone he was promoting. And let him go ahead and do it, and let them all have a good time. And when it's over, we'll go ahead and give the guy a chance to be president of the United States and undo a lot of damage that's been done over the last eight years.
MARTIN: Let's switch gears and talk about Donald Trump's pick for secretary of defense. Trump has tapped retired Marine Corps General James Mattis for the top job at the Pentagon. Mattis has gotten a lot of support from your colleagues on the Hill, including from some Democrats. What do you want to hear from him today in his confirmation hearing?
INHOFE: Not many people understand this. Not many people believe this, Rachel, but we are in the most threatened position we've been in as a nation in the history of this country. I look back wistfully at the good old days of the Cold War where you had two superpowers. We knew what they had. They knew what we had. We had mutually assured destruction and then some. It doesn't mean anything anymore. That's a scary thing. That's what's different about today.
Now, Mattis comes in. He's - I don't think anyone's going to say there's anyone who's been a better strategist, a better Marine than Mattis. He's the right one for this time.
But under the rules that we're operating under right now, for anyone who is a - has been in the service, he must be retired for at least seven years. And in the case of Mattis, he's only been retired for three years. This hasn't happened since George C. Marshall in 1950.
MARTIN: A waiver like this.
INHOFE: A waiver like this.
MARTIN: Well, this - I'll point out this was part of the founding of this country, the idea that there would be civilian leadership of the U.S. military.
INHOFE: Sure, and I agree with that. I agree with that.
MARTIN: But you don't see that as a priority in this moment?
INHOFE: Oh, I think that in George C. Marshall's case, that was justification for a change from the behavior that we've been under for a long period of time. And the same thing is true right now for essentially the same reason. After a war - and people saw a threat and saw that this was something that most people were concerned with as they had never been during peacetime. This was after the war. In this case, we are in the middle, right now, arguably, of three wars.
MARTIN: So how do you see the Trump administration's policies as pertaining to those wars and those conflicts? I mean, the Obama administration spent a lot of time trying to extricate the U.S. from the battlefield. And the Trump administration has outlined similar threats, but at the same time, has not exactly suggested that the U.S. needs to be a more aggressive player in these conflicts.
INHOFE: Well, no. They're two different approaches altogether. You remember the line in the sand in Syria, and of course he ignored it once it came to that stage. I think when you say that our allies no longer trust us, our enemies no longer fear us, that is a concern. Now, we have a president coming into office now who is not going to second-guess. He's going to say, if you attack America, if you - if you come into conflict with us, we're going to be fighting back.
He has already talked about increasing the size of the army, the end strength of the army, to 540 - I think it is right now - thousand. Nothing's magic about these numbers, but we have been disarming America now for eight years. And this is something that is going to stop, and we're going to gain respect again around the world that we have lost in the last eight years.
MARTIN: The incoming president has had very friendly things to say about Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, and has applauded his aggressive posture. Is Vladimir Putin America's friend or foe?
INHOFE: No, he's a foe. However, you do have someone who's going to be president of United States who's had dealings with him. I'm not sure, but what that might result - and it's not just the incoming president. It's several of the appointees, as I'm sure you will point out, who are in the confirmation process now that are - have had dealings with Putin, have done these things.
But, you know, when you have a relationship that is a business relationship, and all of a sudden, you become the commander in chief of the United States of America, you change your posture. You have a different function, and that function is not a function going out to see how much money you can make in conjunction with some kind of a trade agreement that's out there.
MARTIN: Will General Mattis have President Trump's ear when it comes to shaping America's military and foreign policy?
INHOFE: I'm absolutely certain of that. And one reason I am is that Mattis is the type of person who's not going to come out of retirement unless he knows that he is going to be able to do what he is trained to do. And he knows also that we'll have a president who doesn't have the same background who's relying on him.
One of the things, it's my understanding, that has made Donald Trump successful in business is that he hires people who know what they're doing and lets them do it. And that's a good style. And that's one that I think that is going to pass through to his subordinates in his Cabinet as he takes office.
MARTIN: Senator Jim Inhofe, Republican from Oklahoma. Senator, thanks for taking the time.
INHOFE: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.