In an interview televised on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, President Trump was asked if Defense Secretary James Mattis would be leaving his administration any time soon. The president responded by saying that he thinks Mattis is “kind of a Democrat.”
“But General Mattis is a good guy. We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves. Everybody. People leave. That’s Washington,” the President continued.
For many around the nation, these remarks seem to bolster months of rumors surrounding the former Marine General’s standing within the Trump White House. Mattis, who famously butted heads with the Obama administration while commanding the U.S. Central Command, has also continued to serve as an occasionally contrasting voice within Trump’s administration — calling for Congressional support of military operations in Syria and even dragging his feet on some Trump-directed policies over the nation’s armed forces, like the banning of transgender service members.
Mattis’ history of running counter to the sitting president when he feels it’s the right thing to do was cited by some as the reason the popular general wasn’t chosen to serve as the Commandant of the Marine Corps prior to his retirement. Now, it would seem that same apolitical approach to voicing his concerns may have put Mattis on the outs with the defacto leader of the Republican party as well.
On Monday, while the Defense Secretary was traveling to Vietnam in an effort to further develop relations in the Pacific aimed at countering Chinese aggression, Mattis was asked to address the president’s remarks.
One reporter asked Mattis what he thought of Trump’s “kind of a Democrat” comment.
“Nothing at all. I’m on his team. We have never talked about me leaving. And as you can see right here, we’re on our way. We just continue doing our job.”
The reporter pressed a bit further, asking if Mattis had seen the interview or spoken to the president since it had aired.
“No. I have not. Frankly, I didn’t watch the interview, I didn’t see it. So I — I read what’s in your papers about it, but going through them; I haven’t gotten through them all yet. No, we’re at — we’re just — we continue in the Department of Defense to do our job. It’s no problem.”
After fielding a series of questions about Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, reporters on the flight returned to the topic of Mattis’ politics and relationship with the president, this time asking directly if Mattis was a Democrat. What followed was a stirring declaration of bipartisanship from the man with perhaps the most political appeal across both parties within the President’s administration.
You know, we’re all built on our formative experiences.
When I was 18, I joined the Marine Corps, and in the U.S. military we are proudly apolitical. By that, I mean that in our duties, we were brought up to obey the elected commander in chief, whoever that is. And we’ve seen, over those — since I was in the military longer than some of you have been alive, I have seen Republicans and Democrats come and go.
Where am I today? I’m a member of the president’s administration. And you have seen that President Trump’s military policies, security policies, reaping significant bipartisan support. So my role, when you see 83 percent — think about this — for — and I realize you all write about tension between this person and that, this administration and that party, and this sort of thing.
But when you think 83 percent of the U.S. Congress voting the same way on an issue put forward by the Republican president, you can see that my portfolio is bipartisan by its very basis, and that is the protection of the United States.
That’s what President Trump has told me to do, and I eagerly carry that out, alongside probably the most selfless young men and women — not all young; some old men and women, too — civilian and military, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines working together.
So that’s where I stand. That defines me.
Mattis concluded his remarks on the president by stating plainly that he is not registered with either political party.