Report: Trump team blocks Mattis from testifying before House Armed Services Committee tomorrow

Very strange. The hearing that’s scheduled in the House isn’t necessary for his confirmation as Defense secretary, of course, as it’s the Senate that handles confirmations. But Mattis is in an unusual position in that the law says a SecDef must be retired from the military for at least seven years before taking office and he’s only been retired for four. He needs a waiver from Congress, and that requires a vote of both houses. Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee after his Senate confirmation hearing was going to be a courtesy, aimed at securing some votes from House Democrats for the waiver. Now, suddenly, it’s off.

What makes this strange is that Mattis is the single most impressive nominee in Trump’s cabinet. No one doubts that he’ll have an easy time answering questions. Scheduling him for an extra hearing was a way for the new administration to show off the caliber of its picks. Why would it be canceled now? And why was it supposedly Team Trump, not Mattis himself, who asked for the cancellation?

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s team has canceled a crucial appearance before Congress by his nominee to become secretary of defense, retired General James Mattis, even though Mattis himself had agreed to appear, congressional officials say…

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said it was his understanding that the Trump transition team had blocked Mattis from testifying. Congressional aides also confirmed that Mattis had agreed to testify but the appearance had been blocked.

A Trump transition team source told Politico that Mattis didn’t want to appear at the House hearing, but Mac Thornberry, the Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, claimed that Mattis was “enthusiastic to come testify.”

“The transition team told me last night that they would not allow him to come and testify, even though we have been communicating with them since December, and even though Mattis himself is enthusiastic to come testify,” Thornberry said in an interview.

Thornberry said the transition team told him they were concerned about adding extra public settings for questions that could complicate the confirmation process, as well as the fact that Mattis would be testifying on civilian control specifically in the House, and not the Senate, despite his Thursday hearing in the Senate…

Alleigh Marre, a Trump transition spokeswoman for Mattis, declined to say why Mattis was pulled from the hearing.

House Democrats are angry and are threatening to vote against the waiver if Mattis doesn’t show up for the hearing, but who cares? The GOP has more than enough votes to get it through that chamber. Still, why would Team Trump stop him from going across the hall when he’s going to be testifying before the Senate committee tomorrow anyway? I can’t think of a convincing reason. Maybe the transition team wants House Dems to vote against Mattis’s waiver, knowing how unpopular that would be with most of the public. In other words, they’re baiting them into being petulant by pulling Mattis back as a snub. I don’t buy it, though, because the waiver vote will be forgotten before long and most House Dems come from solidly blue districts anyway.

Could … this have something to do with the cancellation?

With only two weeks left before Inauguration Day and days before Mattis’s Senate confirmation hearing, most major Pentagon civilian positions remain unfilled. Behind the scenes, Mattis has been rejecting large numbers of candidates offered by the transition team for several top posts, two sources close to the transition said. The dispute over personnel appointments is contributing to a tenser relationship between Mattis and the transition officials, which could set the stage for turf wars between the Pentagon and the White House in the coming Trump administration…

[T]he arrangement started going south only two weeks later when Mattis had to learn from the news media that Trump had selected Vincent Viola, a billionaire Army veteran, to be secretary of the Army, one source close to the transition said.

“Mattis was furious,” said the source. “It made him suspicious of the transition team, and things devolved from there.”

“Let’s put it this way, he’s being very picky about the options presented to him,” said the source, who was not authorized to talk about internal deliberations.

That’s from a WaPo report published several days ago which also claimed that Mattis wanted to bring some qualified NeverTrumpers into the Pentagon, only to have been met with stern opposition from Team Trump. Why any of that would lead him not to testify before the House, though, I don’t know. Possibly the transition team fears he’ll be asked about it there if he isn’t asked about it at the morning’s Senate hearing and they’re trying to minimize the opportunities for public exposure of strife between Mattis and his boss. Some anti-Trumpers, drinking all of this in and noting that Mattis has reportedly asked undersecretary Robert Work to stay on during the transition, have been speculating that Mattis’s differences with Team Trump are irreconcilable and he’s planning to resign not long into his tenure. Keeping Work on, the theory goes, is designed to have an up-to-speed successor on hand to manage things after Mattis quits. That’s hard to believe — why wouldn’t Mattis quit now and let Work take over as interim SecDef while Team Trump finds a replacement? — but it is odd that the man whose confirmation should be the easiest is hitting these little speed bumps. Which, hopefully, is all they are.