WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Some of President-elect Donald Trump’s picks for key Cabinet positions are facing confirmation hearings on Thursday.
Former GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson, nominated to be the next housing secretary, spoke of his experience growing up and about being a child of a single mom.
“She couldn’t afford the house. We ended up moving to Boston, moving in with relatives,” he said. “So I have actually in my life understood what housing insecurity was.”
Carson is facing questions about his lack of government experience. He said he chuckles when people question how his career as a neurosurgeon applies to running a government agency.
Carson said the brain is capable of amazing things and that a good CEO doesn’t know everything about running a particular business. But he said a good CEO knows how to pick people and use their talents.
Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s nominee for defense secretary, also testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In his opening statement, the retired general outlined his approach.
“My priorities as secretary of defense will be to strengthen military readiness, strengthen our alliances and bring business reforms to the Department of Defense,” he said.
Mattis also told senators the military isn’t robust enough to deal with the wide range of threats the U.S. is facing.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona said he thinks deterrence is critical and that requires the strongest armed forces. McCain asked Mattis, “Do we have that?”
Mattis responded, “No sir.”
Trump pledged during the presidential campaign to rebuild the military services and eliminate the strict, across-the-board spending limits that have constrained the defense budget.
Despite agreeing on some issues, Mattis proved he’s not in lock-step with the president-elect on others like Russia.
“We also have to recognize reality and what Russia is up to, and there’s a decreasing number of areas where we can engage cooperatively,” he said.
Mattis also faced pointed questions over his views on who serves.
“Do you believe that allowing LGBT Americans to service in the military or women in combat is undermining our lethality?” Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D- New York, asked.
“Frankly Senator, I’ve never cared much about two consenting adults and who they go to bed with,” the retired general replied.
After Mattis testified before the committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee overwhelmingly passed legislation to allow him to run the Pentagon.
The Republican-led panel voted 24-3 to clear the bill. Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand, Richard Blumenthal and Elizabeth Warren opposed it.
The measure overrides a prohibition against former U.S. service members who have been out of uniform for less than seven years from holding the job. Mattis retired from the Marine Corps as a four-star general in 2013. He had been a battlefield commander for most of his career.
The full Senate and House must approve the bill before sending it to the president.
Congressman Mike Pompeo of Kansas, Trump’s nominee to run the CIA, also testified Thursday. He said Russian meddling in the president election was an aggressive action taken by senior Russian leaders.
Pompeo said it’s pretty clear Russia worked to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy.
Trump has voiced skepticism that Russia was behind hacking of political sites. But he said Wednesday for the first time that he believes Russia was responsible for the hacking.
Pompeo also seemed at odds with some of Trump’s early campaign rhetoric.
“If you were ordered by the president to restart the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, would you comply?” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, asked.
“Senator, absolutely not. Moreover, I can’t imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect,” he replied.
Republicans hold a majority in the Senate and the cabinets picks will likely be confirmed if Senators vote along party lines.
Meanwhile Thursday, FBI Director James Comey was back under the microscope for his remarks leading up to the election.
The Justice Department is conducting its own investigation into whether Comey followed policies during the 2016 race. Investigators will look into Comey’s comments and letters to Congress regarding Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Also Thursday, Trump tapped former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to lead a cybersecurity committee.
The president-elect has accused U.S. intelligence agencies of leaking unverified reports that claimed Russia had compromising information on him. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, expressed regret, but insisted the leak did not come from the intelligence community.
Thursday morning, Trump tweeted, “James Clapper called me yesterday to denounce the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated. Made up, phony facts. Too bad!”
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