Retired Marine Corps general Jim Mattis’s confirmation hearing was such a breeze that even the Code Pink protesters in the room didn’t say a peep. The anti-war activists who had disrupted Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions’ hearing on Tuesday by ranting about racism and the KKK only protested Mattis silently, raising their hands to hold up a peace sign from time to time.
Throughout the hearing, Mattis was treated to bipartisan praise. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain announced at the start that he couldn’t be happier that Mattis had been nominated. “I think you’re going going to be an extraordinary defense secretary,” Ted Cruz told Mattis. The Texas senator then told a story about how excited his chief of staff, a former Marine, had been when Mattis visited Cruz’s office. “If Elvis Presley had walked into the office, he wouldn’t have been more thrilled than to see you walk in, General.”
Senator Tim Kaine, the Democrats’ 2016 vice presidential nominee, said that Mattis’s decision to write a book on civil-military relations “speaks particularly to your suitability to a waiver” from the law barring military veterans from serving as defense secretary within seven years of retirement. (The Senate voted overwhelmingly after the hearing to grant the waiver.) And Angus King, an independent senator from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, said: “General Mattis, one of the comments you made earlier about fear, honor, and interest are the bases of all wars is now in my telephone. If it ever gets hacked, they’ll find that quote along with those of Lincoln and Churchill. So thank you for that thought.” (Mattis was too polite to inform the senator that the thought about “fear, honor, and interest” was actually from Thucydides.)
The only senator to have a contentious exchange with Mattis was New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who pressed the retired general about his past comments opposing the full integration of women into combat units. Mattis is popularly known for his blunt and colorful comments, and in recent years he has spoken and written publicly about how integrating women into ground combat units would harm military effectiveness.
“The idea of putting a woman in there is not setting them up for success,” Mattis said in a 2014 speech. “It would only be someone who never crossed the line of departure into close-quarters fighting that would ever even promote such an idea.”