McConnell: Next Secretary of Defense Should Think Like Mattis on Global Leadership

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Sen. John Barrasso

WASHINGTON -- After Defense Secretary James Mattis told President Trump he could no longer serve in his cabinet because of sharp policy differences, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he wants to see a Pentagon nominee who thinks like Mattis.

Mattis' resignation letter to Trump, which reportedly came about as a result of Trump announcing on Twitter that he'd withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, emphasized the general's "core belief" that America's "strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships." The New York Times reported that Mattis refused to publicly endorse the Syria policy change when asked to do so by Trump, and no other senior Pentagon officials agreed to do so, either.

"I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours," he added. "It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model -- gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions -- to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense."

After his defense of alliances and urging that the U.S. do "everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values," Mattis said his last day would be Feb. 28 -- after the NATO defense ministerial and with adequate time to allow transition to a new secretary.

McConnell's response to the news zeroed in on Mattis' argument for American leadership on the global stage.

"I believe it’s essential that the United States maintain and strengthen the post-World War II alliances that have been carefully built by leaders in both parties. We must also maintain a clear-eyed understanding of our friends and foes, and recognize that nations like Russia are among the latter," the Senate leader said.

“So I was sorry to learn that Secretary Mattis, who shares those clear principles, will soon depart the administration. But I am particularly distressed that he is resigning due to sharp differences with the president on these and other key aspects of America’s global leadership," McConnell added.

“It is regrettable that the president must now choose a new secretary of Defense. But I urge him to select a leader who shares Secretary Mattis’s understanding of these vital principles and his total commitment to America’s service members.”

At a press conference this evening, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called Mattis' resignation notice "a letter of great patriotism... written by a patriotic American who was a comfort to many of us as a voice of stability in the Trump administration."

"General Kelly, General Mattis, so many others, General McMaster, exactly. There is chaos now in this administration. This week was one of the most chaotic weeks we’ve ever seen in American government," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, standing alongside Pelosi.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) told a CNN reporter "oh shit" when asked about Mattis resigning.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Mattis' letter "makes it abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances & empower our adversaries," while Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) tweeted, "This is a sad day."

"General Mattis was giving advice POTUS needs to hear. Mattis rightly believes that Russia & China are adversaries, and that we are at war with jihadists across the globe who plot to kill Americans," Sasse added. "Isolationism is a weak strategy that will harm America and America’s allies. Radical jihadists are still at war with us, and NO, MR PRESIDENT, ISIS is not gone. It’s not true — and just proclaiming it doesn’t make it so."