Mattis Speaks Out: He’s Staying SecDef, and He’s Not a Democrat

In this Dec. 20, 2017, file photo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
In this Dec. 20, 2017, file photo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis brushed off President Donald Trump's suggestion that he's "sort of a Democrat" and said he has no intention of resigning his Cabinet post.

'I'm on his team," Mattis said of Trump. "We have never talked about me leaving. We just continue doing our job."

When asked what he made of Trump's remarks on his status, Mattis said, "Nothing at all."

He also said that, as a career Marine, he has shunned politics and is neither a Democrat nor a Republican.

"I've never registered for any political party," he added.

Mattis was speaking to defense reporters traveling with him en route to Vietnam on Monday. A transcript of his remarks was made available by the Pentagon.

The first question put to him was on the president's interview, broadcast Sunday night on CBS' "60 Minutes" program, in which Trump speculated on the possibility of Mattis resigning.

"It could be that he is," Trump said. "I think he's sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth. 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."

Trump did not spell out what he meant by the "Democrat" suggestion, but Mattis has not always been in line with the direction of Trump's policies on a range of issues.

Mattis has stressed the value of alliances such as NATO while Trump questions them. He also presides over a Pentagon that has been unenthusiastic about the president's plans for a Space Force, a big military parade on Veterans Day, the deployment of National Guard troops to the southern border, and a ban on transgender troops in the military.

On the plane to Vietnam, Mattis indicated that Trump's musings on his status were his privilege as commander-in-chief. "We continue in the Department of Defense to do our job. It's no problem," he said. "I have seen Republicans and Democrats come and go," and his own views on avoiding politics have not changed.

"When I was 18, I joined the Marine Corps and, in the U.S. military, we are proudly apolitical," Mattis said. "By that, I mean that in our duties we were brought up to obey the elected commander-in-chief, whoever that is."

As defense secretary, "my portfolio is bipartisan by its very basis, and that is the protection of the United States," he said. "That's what President Trump has told me to do, and I eagerly carry that out. So that's where I stand. That defines me."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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