WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump, vowing to rebuild a "depleted" military and exercise restraint in using it, officially announced retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as his pick for defense secretary on Tuesday evening.
In the announcement, Trump said he will use his first budget request to "ask for the elimination of the defense sequester" — understood to mean statutory budget caps. The pronouncement came after Vice President-elect Mike Pence said the new administration would offer a much-anticipated supplemental defense spending bill within the first 100 days.
"Our men and women in uniform will have the supplies, support, equipment, training, services, medical support, resources, to get the job done extremely well and perfectly," Trump said.
The speech came as GOP leaders in Congress unveiled a short-term budget extension that included language to expedite the nomination path for Mattis. Because Mattis retired in 2013, he needs a waiver for a 1947 law that requires a seven-year wait after military service.
Congressional Democrats have focused on Trump's national security team in recent days, decrying plans to limit debate on Mattis' waiver — despite their respect for him — and blasting the incoming national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, for fueling conspiracy theories and Islamophobic rhetoric.
House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith, D-Wash., said earlier Tuesday it was worrisome that Flynn — who "obviously lost his grasp on reality" — would be responsible for filtering and assessing crucial information pertaining to the national defense.
"He shouldn't be within 100,000 miles of a national security situation," Smith said of Flynn. "If he winds up being our national security adviser, we're in a whole lot of danger as a country."
Speaking in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of Fort Bragg and the 82nd Airborne Division, Trump shared a public stage for the first time with Mattis, who spoke briefly. Mattis said he looked forward to the job, so long as Congress grants him a waiver as a former general and the Senate confirms him.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity to return to our troops, their families, the civilians of the Department of Defense, because I know how committed they are and devoted they are," Mattis said.
After Mattis finished, Trump expressed confidence Congress would provide the waiver: "Oh, if he doesn't get that waiver, there will be a lot of angry people, such a popular choice."
Before Mattis took the stage, Trump said the military was depleted, "because we're all over the place, in places we shouldn't be in." Under his leadership, he said, the United States would not "be racing to topple foreign regimes we know nothing about," and instead would prioritize fighting the Islamic State group.
US troops would receive, "the best equipment in the world. It's going to be new, its going to be modern, its going to be clean. The best."
Trump said he will strengthen old friendships and begin new ones, and promote harmony and goodwill with the nations of the world — but he also vowed to ensure other nations no longer take advantage of the United States.
"We want to be the smart people," he said. "We don't want to be what we've been over the last long period of time."
Lawmakers Debate Waiver
Lawmakers must pass a budget extension by the end of the week to avoid a government shutdown. Republican planners unveiled a budget bill to extend fiscal 2016 spending to April 28, a move meant to allow the incoming president an opportunity to set his own federal spending priorities.
Party leaders have also signaled their eagerness to get Trump's Cabinet nominees confirmed as quickly as possible, with the possibility of some confirmation hearings taking place even before Trump is sworn into office.
The continuing resolution, or CR, contains language aimed at limiting procedures that Democrats might use to force delays in the Senate. The Senate Armed Services Committee would have five days to report the waiver legislation for floor consideration, and once there, the Senate would debate it for no more than 10 hours. Also, it would need 60 votes to pass.
Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole, a party strategist and member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said earlier Tuesday the goal of the language is to save time.
"We know because of the all the nominations, and the Supreme Court fight, that time is going to be at a premium in the Senate side, so anything that can save time is to our advantage," Cole said.
Democrats, before the rule changes were made public, promised to push back on any plan to limit congressional debate.
Smith said he had been assured by HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, that there would be no CR language on Mattis. If that turned out to be wrong, he said, "It would be a pretty good reason to vote against it."
Setting parameters for the debate, Smith told reporters, "doesn't make any sense."
"I mean, it's a bill. There are no 'parameters.' It goes through committee. It goes through the House. … Those are the parameters and they're very well understood. They don't have to be in a CR," Smith said.
Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed, D-R.I., called for a "serious debate" in both chambers, given the discussion of the longstanding principle of civilian control of the military.
"Trying to jam an historic change like this through on a year-end spending bill, or changing the rules before a serious debate can take place, is not the way to conduct the people's business," Reed said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement earlier in the day that using the CR to sidestep a discussion on civilian control of the military sets "a terrible precedent."
"The American people are entitled to regular order and thoughtful scrutiny of nominees and any potential waivers," she said.
Since the federal rules were approved in 1947, only once has Congress granted a waiver for a recently retired service member to become defense secretary. That was George Marshall in 1950.
Flynn Advising Trump, "a frightening prospect"
On Monday, Politico reported that Flynn had used social media to spread "dubious factoids at least 16 times since Aug. 9." That includes retweeting accusations that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was involved with a child sex trafficking ring — a hoax news story that reportedly inspired a shooting at a real Washington pizzeria in Washington on Sunday.
On Tuesday, Flynn's son was reportedly fired by the new administration over his use of social media to back the so-called "pizzagate" story.
More than 50 organizations, many of which are left-leaning, sent a letter to Trump on Monday calling on him to rescind Flynn's appointment, as it would "damage America's standing in the world and pose a threat to our national security."
The letter called Flynn "a frightening prospect for anyone who values America's national security."
"General Flynn has repeatedly made Islamophobic statements and peddled anti-Muslim conspiracy theories," reads the letter. "On social media, he shared a blatantly anti-Semitic tweet. General Flynn's repugnant statements show a lack of respect for the rights and dignity of Muslims and make him unfit for this post."
In an appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday, Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, condemned Flynn and Trump for spreading falsehoods on social media and thereby weakening their credibility domestically and abroad.
"So, there are I think some very serious concerns, but chief among them is if we can't even agree that the facts should guide our decision-making, we've got a real problem on our hands," Schiff said.
Leo Shane III in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.