In Senate hearings, Mattis and Pompeo differ over Iran nuclear deal

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Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) testifies before a Senate Intelligence hearing on his nomination to head the CIA on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTX2YOC0

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Moving away from Russia, Mr. Trump’s picks to lead the CIA and the Department of Defense shed light on where the new administration stands on a number of other fronts.

Margaret Warner has the story.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, Chair, Armed Services Committee: I for one, could not be happier.

MARGARET WARNER: Retired General Mattis was clearly in friendly territory before the Senate Armed Services Committee. But the conversation turned deadly serious on the many non-Russia threats to the U.S.

Committee Chairman John McCain on China:

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: We see a new assertiveness in China to confront U.S. allies and partners, make vast territorial claims with no basis in international law, carve out spheres of influence.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), Secretary of Defense Nominee: And I would just say that what we have got to do is maintain a very strong military, so our diplomats are always engaging from a position of strength when we deal with a rising power.

MARGARET WARNER: On Syria and efforts to retake the Islamic State stronghold there:

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Do you believe that we have a strategy that will allow us to regain control of Raqqa?

GEN. JAMES MATTIS: I believe we do, sir. However, I believe that strategy needs to be reviewed and perhaps energized on a more aggressive timeline.

MARGARET WARNER: And on a long-contentious topic, Mattis’ opposition post-retirement to letting women serve in combat roles, as they do today.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-N.Y.): Do you plan to oppose women serving in these combat roles?

GEN. JAMES MATTIS: I have no plan to oppose women in any aspect of our military.

MARGARET WARNER: The panel’s top Democrat, Rhode Island’s Jack Reed, noted Mattis has publicly supported sticking with the Iran nuclear deal that President-elect Donald Trump has derided.

SEN. JACK REED (D-R.I.): We have to essentially stay the course. Is that still your view?

GEN. JAMES MATTIS: I think it is an imperfect arms control agreement. It’s not a friendship treaty. But when America gives her word, we have to live up to it.

MARGARET WARNER: The Iran deal also came up in the Intelligence Committee’s hearing for Congressman Mike Pompeo as CIA chief.

Democrat Martin Heinrich of New Mexico:

SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D-N.M.): I know that the day before you were nominated to be the director, you said that you looked forward to — quote — “rolling back the Iran deal.”

REP. MIKE POMPEO (R-Kan.): It was my view that the JCPOA was a mistake for American national security. And now, if I’m confirmed, I will continue to do that in my role as director of the CIA. I will endeavor to provide straight information to you all about the progress that the JCPOA has made.

MARGARET WARNER: California Democrat Dianne Feinstein brought up the CIA’s brutal interrogations of suspected terrorists, now outlawed by Congress.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-Calif.): If you were ordered by the president to restart the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques that fall outside of the Army Field Manual, would you comply?

REP. MIKE POMPEO: Senator, absolutely not. Moreover, I can’t imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect.

MARGARET WARNER: The committee will vote recommending Pompeo’s confirmation to the full Senate.

On Mattis, the Senate voted overwhelmingly for a waiver to allow him to serve as secretary of defense less than seven years after retiring from the military.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Margaret Warner.

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