WASHINGTON: When it comes to Congress, Jim Mattis is making up for lost time — even if it means testifying at strange times. In an unprecedented sprint to make up for a delayed roll-out of the 2018 budget, the defense secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford, will appear before all four defense committees, one after another, over four days. The House Armed Services Committee drew the short straw, Monday, and no less a figure than ranking Democrat Adam Smith is grumbling.
First, it’s late in the year. “Secretary Mattis isn’t coming before our committee until next Monday (June 12), which is two months later than normal,” Smith told me this afternoon. (Last year, Sec. Ash Carter, Gen. Dunford, and Comptroller Mike McCord testified on the budget March 22).
Second, it’s very late in the day. The hearing starts at 7pm, which had virtual eyebrows raised all over Twitter and defense journalists lamenting the late night. (I’ll be out of town). Why the odd hour? Congress normally holds hearings during business hours Tuesday through Thursday, Smith pointed out, so that members can fly home on Friday and come back to D.C. on Monday.
This isn’t about getting a long weekend every weekend. True, many members never formally move to D.C. and leave their families back in their districts, especially when if they’ve campaigned as outsiders and want to give voters tangible evidence they won’t become a Washington insider. But the four days back in the district tend to be less a break than a soul-sucking round of public appearances and fundraising.
So when the Pentagon told the House Armed Services Committee that Mattis and Dunford would testify on Monday, HASC had a problem. Most of its members wouldn’t be in town during normal business hours. Hence the decision to hold the hearing at the unusual hour of 7 p.m., when legislators might be low-energy but at least they could be present.
It’s just one of Smith’s many frustrations with this administration, he told me. The White House is not only behind on the budget process, he said, it’s also slow on sending nominees to the Senate. In the Pentagon and elsewhere, he said, “there aren’t a lot of people to talk to so it definitely has slowed down the process.”
Bottom line: when you finally get a date for Mattis — you make it work.