Amid speculation that he may soon be replaced, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said President Donald Trump told him he supports the retired Marine general "100 percent." The assertion comes just days after Trump mused on national television about Mattis leaving his post.
Mattis said Trump gave him this assurance during a phone call while Mattis was flying from Washington to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, yesterday. A few hours earlier, Mattis told reporters traveling with him that he and Trump had never discussed the possibility of Mattis leaving the Pentagon job. Mattis initially was responding to reporters' questions about Trump's comments on CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday that Mattis "may leave" his administration and that he thinks the retired Marine Corps general is "sort of a Democrat."
Asked what he made of Trump's comments, in which the president also said he likes Mattis and that eventually all appointees move on, Mattis said, "Nothing at all," adding, "We have never talked about me leaving." Later, Mattis approached reporters traveling with him to say he'd just spoken to Trump. He said he called the president aboard Air Force One to discuss damage to military bases caused by Hurricane Michael. During that conversation, Trump asked Mattis whether he had seen the "60 Minutes" interview broadcast on Sunday. Mattis said he had not. Trump then expressed his full support for Mattis and suggested Mattis let the press know this. By telling "60 Minutes" that he suspected Mattis is "sort of a Democrat," Trump seemed to suggest that he thinks Mattis is too moderate in his politics, although he did not say so directly or cite any area of disagreement with Mattis. Whereas Trump has made a hardline policy on immigration a centerpiece of his agenda, Mattis has publicly cited the valuable contributions that non-citizen members of the military have made over the years. Mattis also is a staunch supporter of NATO, whereas Trump has questioned its value to America.