Retired general James Mattis a top candidate for Pentagon chief

US President-elect Donald Trump (left) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence (right) pose with retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis (centre) at the clubhouse of Trump International Golf Club, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey, USA,
US President-elect Donald Trump (left) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence (right) pose with retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis (centre) at the clubhouse of Trump International Golf Club, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey, USA, on Nov 19, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

BEDMINSTER, N.J. (REUTERS) - James Mattis, the blunt-spoken retired Marine Corps general who headed the US military command covering the Middle East and Afghanistan, emerged on Sunday (Nov 20) as a top candidate for defense secretary, with President-elect Donald Trump calling him "very impressive."

Trump, who was holding a series of meetings at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey with candidates for posts in his incoming administration, met on Saturday with Mattis and Mitt Romney, previously a Trump critic who now is under consideration for secretary of state.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who launched his own unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination, will meet with Trump on Monday and is being considered for Cabinet posts including defense, energy and veterans affairs positions, a source familiar with the meeting said.

 

Trump told reporters he would likely have some announcements on top administration positions on Sunday but did not say which ones.

Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday that "General James 'Mad Dog' Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General's General!"

Mattis from 2010 to 2013 headed the US military's Central Command, which oversees operations stretching from the Horn of Africa through the Middle East and into Central Asia including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

During that time, he was at odds with the Obama administration on the need to prepare for potential threats from Iran and about resources for Afghanistan.

Mattis, 66, served as an American commander in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who now heads Trump's transition team," said Mattis has had "a legendary military career."

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said it was a "very real possibility" Mattis would get the job, telling the ABC programme This Week, "I know that President-elect Trump loves leaders like General Mattis."

ROMNEY UNDER 'SERIOUS CONSIDERATION'

Pence said Trump and Romney had a good meeting and "a warm and a substantive exchange."

"I can say that Governor Romney is under active and serious consideration to serve as secretary of state of the United States," Pence said on the CBS programme Face the Nation.

Romney, the unsuccessful 2012 Republican presidential nominee, was a leader of the Republican establishment movement that tried to block Trump from becoming the nominee this year. In March, Romney called Trump "a phony," "a fraud" and "a con man."

A source close to Romney from his time as Massachusetts governor expressed concern that he might be "frozen out" by officials whose thinking appears to be closer to Trump's, such as Michael Flynn, the president-elect's choice for national security advisor, Mattis, White House counsellor Steve Bannon, and members of Trump's family.

"How much influence and latitude he will have will be up to Trump, and they don't appear to be on the same page about much,"the source said.

On Sunday, Trump was meeting with several more contenders for senior jobs, including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who also is in the running for secretary of state, and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, who is being considered for commerce secretary.

Trump was also scheduled to meet with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was a close adviser during his campaign but was removed as the head of his transition team.

Meanwhile, conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham confirmed on Sunday she is being considered by Trump to serve as White House press secretary.

DEMOCRATS SEND SIGNAL OF COOPERATION

When Trump takes office on Jan 20, both chambers of Congress will be controlled by his fellow Republicans. He could, however, face fierce opposition from Democrats to many of his legislative initiatives and some of his appointments.

But incoming Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer, who hails from Trump's home state of New York, held out the possibility that Democrats could work with Trump on legislation to increase spending on US infrastructure.

Schumer said on "Fox News Sunday" he has talked to Trump about infrastructure and said it is possible that "we could get a major infrastructure bill done," maybe even in the first 100 days of his presidency. "It has to be large and bold. Trump has talked about a trillion dollars. Good," Schumer said.

Trump said on Twitter that "I have always had a good relationship with Chuck Schumer" and the senator "has the ability to get things done." Priebus offered mixed signals on Sunday on whether Trump would create a registry for Muslims in the United States, first saying, "I'm not going to rule out anything."

But he then said that "we're not going to have a registry based on religion" but there are "some people that are radicalized" and "some people who have to be prevented from coming into this country." Trump appears to be setting up his administration to take a hard line confronting Islamist militancy.

Regarding Islam, Priebus said on "This Week" that "clearly there are some aspects of that faith that are problematic. And we know them. We've seen it. But it certainly isn't a blanket for all people of that faith."

Jason Miller, communications director of Trump's transition team, declined to confirm a report in the New York Post that incoming first lady Melania Trump and the couple's 10-year-old son Barron will not move into the White House.

Miller said he had no formal statement yet but that there is"some sensitivity" to moving the boy out of his current New York school in the middle of a school year.