NEW YORK - Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees, in their first round of confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, have one after another contradicted the president-elect on key issues, promising to trim back or disregard some of the signature promises on which he campaigned.
Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s nominee to be defense secretary, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States (US) must honor the “imperfect arms-control agreement” with Iran that Trump has vowed to dismantle because “when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.”
He also took a more adversarial stance than Trump has toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and cited Moscow as one of the nation’s top threats.
“I’ve never found a better guide for the way ahead than studying the histories. Since (the 1945 meeting of world powers at) Yalta, we have a long list of times we’ve tried to engage positively with Russia. We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard,” Mattis said.
“I think right now, the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with (in) Putin and we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance,” he added.
At a witness table in another Senate hearing room, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), whom Trump picked to head the CIA, assured the Intelligence Committee that he would “absolutely not” use brutal interrogation tactics on terrorism suspects in contravention of the law, even if ordered to do so by a president who campaigned on a promise to reinstate the use of such measures.
Trump indicated in a tweet Friday morning that he is unconcerned about the contradictions. “All of my Cabinet nominee are looking good and doing a great job,” Trump wrote.
“I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!”
The discordant notes that Cabinet nominees have struck as they have been questioned by senators suggest that a reality check may lie ahead for Trump.
It may be that the grandiosity and disregard for convention that got Trump elected were inevitably bound for a collision with the practical and legal limitations of governing.
“His rhetoric was so far outside the boundaries, in some instances of reality, and in some instances, of the laws of the nation, and in other issues, outside the boundaries of pass-fail issues for some of these nominees,” said Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who as an aide to President George W. Bush oversaw the confirmation process for the Supreme Court nominations of Samuel A. Alito Jr. and John G. Roberts Jr.
The American system of government places “extraordinary constraints” on even a president’s power, Schmidt said. “You’re seeing the reality-show aspects of campaigning bending to the reality of governance.”
But others say that Trump is such a singular figure, whose fervent supporters are convinced that he can topple the established order in Washington, that it is impossible to predict how things will play out once he has been inaugurated.
See photos from the confirmation hearings of Trump’s Cabinet nominees